The “Why?” Exercise

Dana Telford
Dana Telford

I refer to a favorite consulting tool as the “Why?” Exercise – a process that utilizes repetition of the question “why?” to discover the guiding principles behind decisions. I’ve found that when working through the question, some clients realize they may be abandoning long-held values for other perceived short-term gains in status, power, wealth or comfort.

Some years ago a client (Jeff) and his wife (Rhonda) were given the opportunity to go on a service mission to a developing country in Latin America – something they had both hoped for and worked toward for many years.  When faced with the question “what to do with the family business?” they felt it was time to completely dedicate their lives to charitable service, to include gifting their assets to their church rather than passing them to their 8 children.

As I talked them through the Why? Exercise regarding this decision, a fascinating complication came up.  I learned that early in his career Jeff had been employed by his church to manage charitable gifts.  When pressed, he confessed that he did not believe that the well-intentioned folks in the charitable gifts department could fully appreciate the blood, sweat and tears he had invested into amassing the wealth.  He knew that their job was to graciously accept the gifts, assess value, provide tax documentation, meticulously dismantle the empire, sell the pieces to the highest bidders, and collect the funds for the benefit of the church.  With careful thought he realized that the thought of his businesses and assets going through this process left him feeling empty.

The alternative – to give and sell assets to their children – also caused them concern due to long-standing sibling rivalries and an overall quest for peace in the family as they prepared to leave the USA for two years.  Based on my time spent with their children and in-laws, I felt that they were talented and diligent and capable of working together, and I told them as much.  I also voiced my opinion that they would have a much higher chance of appreciating the Legacy and protecting it for another generation.

After further Why? questioning and discussion, Jeff and Rhonda realized that keeping the assets in their family was a more authentic reflection of the guiding principles they had followed as they raised their family and built their businesses – faith, family, hard work, education and service.

Jeff and Rhonda’s dilemma over the future of their business is only one example of the myriad emotional decisions that you face as a business owner. No matter what your own motivation is for building, nurturing and growing your business, keeping your “why” centered in your view through the decision making process will help you ensure that the business continues to grow in keeping with your  values and in a way you can be proud of.

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