What Inhibits Change in Families?

David Lansky

Family leaders are in the business of promoting change in their families, yet change is often difficult to implement. Here are three reasons why:

The Principle of Inertia
Newton’s first law of motion states that to change direction, an object in motion requires the application of an external force. This is the concept of inertia.

Inertia: the property of matter by which it retains its state of rest or its velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force.

Once set in motion in one direction, the universe doesn’t like objects to change direction. So inertia requires the application of an external force. Families are like that. Implementing new practices in a family requires the application of energy. And as we know, energy is at a premium when family members are active in their businesses, personal and family lives. I often hear people complain that introducing change in a family is difficult. Well it is. So the need to apply energy when introducing new practices is simply the natural course of events. Change takes time, energy and patience.

Fear of the Unknown
Nobody wants to step off the deep end without knowing what they will be stepping into. I worked with one family where we discussed a very important recommendation – restructuring their board of directors so that board members were there not to represent branches but to contribute to the business. The family was strongly resistant to the idea – “We have always done things this way”, one member said to me, “How do we know that your recommendation won’t make things worse for us?”

Worse than a constant battle over equal representation?

Well, as they say “Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t….”

Psychological Reactance
Psychological reactance occurs when a person believes that his or her choices are being restricted by others. Reactance will then cause a person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what is intended, and will increase resistance to persuasion.

Now this is very important: When people feel that they do not have a choice or that choices are limited, they are likely to react in two ways: – they push back against the change , or they spend lots of time thinking about how to remove whatever constraints they believe are being imposed.

That’s why it is so important in succession and wealth transfer planning for next generation people to feel that have had a voice in the planning process. This is the reasoning behind the principal of inclusiveness in family governance.


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