All collaborative behavior must stand on a foundation of adequately shared objectives, purpose and direction. Family companies are no exception. The continuity of these enterprises rests on the extent to which the owners’ personal, familial and economic aspirations are in alignment. At LGA we refer to these aspirations as a "Shared Dream." It is a vision for the family enterprise that adds excitement, meaning and vitality to the lives of the owners and broadly defines the purpose, direction and culture of the enterprise. The "Shared Dream" provides the answer to the most fundamental question all business families must address: "Why should we stay together as a family and as owners of this enterprise?"
We believe that continuity should always be viewed as both an individual and collective choice. Each stakeholder must confront his or her personal motivations and commitment to the collective undertaking, by asking, “Why am I involved? What do I expect to receive? What am I willing and able to contribute?” In addition, at every generational transition the owning family as a group must determine anew if the common ground of the answers to those individual questions is adequate to sustain the work of enterprise continuity.
This is not a theoretical exercise -- it is a most pragmatic assessment. Governance continuity is hard work. Our experience suggests that only when the owners’ aspirations are well understood, articulated, embraced, and shared can they engage constructively with the demands of governance. We understand well that getting owners to discuss what they want and reach consensus on a common direction is never an easy task, particularly in large, complex and diverse families of wealth. It rarely happens on its own. Many owners have not taken the time to step back and reflect on their aspirations. Some are clear about what they want but fear what would happen if they share their aspirations with others in their family and their enterprise. Others may not understand the range of roles and possibilities available for them to relate to a shared enterprise and legacy.
Exploring the “Shared Dream” is a specific and challenging task, and that is why we have made it a formal part of our Continuity Audit process.
During the diagnostic phase of our work, we systematically gather information about what owners want for themselves, their family and their business. Our “Dream Alignment” process includes:
The objective is to emerge with a vision for the family enterprise that integrates the voices, values and priorities of the owners and that can serve as a foundation on which to build an architecture for governance and a strategy for the enterprise.
This is much more than just brainstorming possibilities, or getting the owners to agree on what they want. A “Shared Dream” must also be viable in the world. If shared aspirations are to be realized, they must be anchored on a realistic assessment of the resources available and of the leadership and organizational capabilities needed for effective implementation.
That is why the Dream Alignment process is integrated with all the other data gathering and analysis tasks in the Continuity Audit. At its conclusion, we have helped the family business owners to develop feasible "Dreams with datelines" — the preparation for Phase 2 of the LGA Continuity Guidance Process, Design and Implementation.
"We have entered a new era of private philanthropy. Philanthropists and the field that supports them have been preoccupied with grantmaking. We need to give more attention to governance. The structure and processes of foundations as systems need more study, more guidelines, and more respect."
—Kelin Gersick, Generations of Giving
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