It’s the New Year and an opportunity to partake of the requisite tradition of making resolutions, where each of us resolves to challenge ourselves with self-improvement. This tradition dates back to the early Babylonian and Roman times, when promises were made to pay debts, return borrowed objects and make resolutions to the god Janus.
This period of reflection reminds me of work that I did with the Thomas family that operated a car dealership. The five siblings had a serious dispute over ownership of the company and we used religious traditions and family values to help them resolve their conflict.
In Judaism, the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the days of repentance in between allow for reflection of individual behavior backed by tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of forgiveness—a process of healing and repair. Similarly, the Christian tradition of Lent and self-sacrifice also influences the concept of the New Year’s resolution.
In the context of family businesses, the creation of a family common vision is an alternate and more successful way of making a promise or resolution to contribute to the common good of the family. The family common vision is created out of those values the family wants to see perpetuated in their business.
The vision symbolizes the family’s commitment to unite, create harmony and improve family communication.
This concept recognizes that no single family member is ever going to get 100 percent of what he or she wants.
The vision inspires each family member to make a contribution to the family’s common good out of the individual’s generosity, love, sense of abundance, and the trust that if one of them makes a contribution now, another member of the family will do the same when their turn comes.
Another facet of the family common vision process is the family prayer for loving kindness, to inspire everyone to create this kind of family culture.
The third phase of the family common vision process is a) the creation of individual visions for each member of the family; and b) “kything,” which is the reciprocal commitment to each other’s success, and is manifested by reciting the individual visions of other members of the family.
Kything is a Scottish term that means being committed to other family members through a spiritual process. This reciprocal commitment is what creates a team and makes it possible for each person to know that their family members are committed to their success.
Family members are asked to recite the family common vision, family prayer, individual visions and kything on a daily basis.
A good example of how the process works is the Thomas family (not their real name). They’re hardworking, “salt of the earth,” humble and close-knit. Historically, the members had been unassuming, and money had never been an issue in the family. At the time I worked with the family, there were five siblings and four spouses working in the car dealership. The father, who founded the business, was no longer active and sold the business to his three sons; but he got poor legal advice and sold the business below market value. He also excluded his daughters from the estate plan.
As a result of the sale, the brothers were taking a combined compensation of $1 million per year from the business and distributions. The father, to offset his guilt about excluding his daughters from ownership in the dealership, built a warehouse on the property he no longer owned and gave it to his daughters. Both daughters worked at the dealership—one performing IT responsibilities, the other the controller. Both sisters knew the compensation and distributions their brothers received. You can imagine the tension and hurt feelings that occurred as a result.
By developing a family common vision, the family members were able to resolve their differences:
Older brother Mark, who was president of the business, supported a family common vision that reflected the common good of all family members. Mark, his siblings and their spouses recited their family’s common vision on a daily basis.
Despite complicated legal and financial business issues that had surfaced previously, the family members engaged in an emotionally healing process that occurred over about eight months. During that period, there were regular family meetings to discuss emotional concerns, reorganize the ownership plan to include the daughters, and heal and repair family relationships.
Instead of making a New Year’s resolution, the Thomas family was guided by its family common vision. It was created based on the members’ family values, and it charted a path to a more successful and profitable business.
In the process, family members also renewed their love and commitment to each other. The company has gone on to become the most successful business of its type in its state, and the family members have never been closer. By working collaboratively to create a family common vision and by reciting it daily, the Thomas family members are united—and their dealership has thrived
Tom Hubler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Hubler for Business Families, a family business consulting firm.