Three siblings sat in a room discussing the details of a new shareholders agreement they wanted to create. Through a recent lawsuit with two other siblings, their current shareholder agreement, which had been put together by their father, had been helpful in defining settlement terms, but they knew it wasn’t comprehensive. The three siblings had gotten over the shock and hurt of the lawsuit, the dust had settled, and they were ready to proceed with a new shareholder agreement, but old habits had started to reemerge. They were stuck in a positional standoff. Eventually, after a year of building trust, they got to the point of having an honest and open discussion with each other regarding what they each wanted out of the shareholders agreement. They were (rightly) very proud of how far they had come.
They were also contemplating succession and their children were now employed in the business. One of the senior generation siblings suggested that since the three of them had come so far, it might be important for the next generation to sit in on the facilitated discussions regarding the shareholders agreement. They wanted the children to see that they could have tough discussions without being positional, judgmental, and/or defensive.
The meeting didn’t get very far through the parts of the agreement. There were a lot of side questions, a lot of meandering, but always came back on topic. Eventually, the three siblings went off on their own to discuss a few of the points on the shareholder’s agreement. After the siblings left, the next gen were asked what they thought of the meeting. A couple of them were confused about the lack of progress on the different points. Why was there so much discussion and meandering? Another was grateful to start hearing some of the terms that were used. He didn’t understand all of the different aspects of the agreement, so he was intrigued. And finally, the last one said he was happy to understand why they were making decisions about certain things instead of being handed a document and told “that’s how it is.”
The three siblings came back in the room and one of the next gen asked if they got anything done. One sibling answered that they got a lot done – they uncovered more questions. Two of the next gen were confused. They again said it seemed like the older generation siblings weren’t accomplishing anything. But the eldest sibling was excited. He told the next gen they accomplished so much more than just the points of the agreement. They gained trust and understanding and were enjoying the new found teamwork around the important document. They had come so far in their communication and were now enjoying solving tough problems together.
It was such an important illustration of how much the process matters when making decisions among family members. The next generation began to understand how to work together as future shareholders. It is incredibly important to teach the next generation many things, but most importantly, how to be a good partner. Next time you’re having an important discussion among the shareholders, keep these following points in mind:
- Understand the process of making decisions is as important, and sometimes more, than the end product.
- Exemplify what good communication and decision making can be for the next generation – they’re watching you.
- Don’t hide difficult situations and conversations from the next generation.
- Understand that the next generation wants to know WHY you made the decision you did.
- Introduce terms that may be foreign, confusing, or misunderstood.
- Don’t be afraid to veer off-topic for the sake of understanding. Just remember to come back to topic again.
Good decision making is so much more than good decisions.