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Monday, February 18, 2013


Developing a Family Strategy

Last week I conducted a strategic planning workshop for one of my clients at a hotel in the Shaba game reserve. As I usually do when conducting strategy workshops, I asked the question "do any of you have a family strategy?". After the usual surprised looks, most of the participants were non-committal or admitted they did not have one. However, together we went ahead to thrash out a fabulous strategy outlining a plan of how to enable the company to generate five billion shillings in under three years…After three days of hard work we were all treated to a game drive looking for lions, zebra, elephant and crocodiles in the park. On our way back at precisely 6.00 PM, we got stuck in the mud, in a bandit infested area for five hours.


The first topic of discussion was strategy (how do we get out of this mud). The next topic started at about 7.00PM. People began talking about their family and how to get help (how do I tell my family). The last topic of discussion that started at about 8.00PM and went on for two full hours was about survival (how do we not die). There was great relief when we arrived back at the hotel at 11pm. I had never understood the relationship between being stuck in the mud, strategy and family until last weekend.



Apart from helping you to escape lions in a game reserve, why am I so concerned that you should have a family strategy? Well because the family is the basic unit of human organization and enterprise. The family is a business that most people run without thinking. We give more attention to our car, jobs and businesses than we care about the survival of our families. If every family took strategy to heart, we would transform this nation in less than one generation.



In simple terms, strategy is a "basic plan" to overcome a future challenge. A strategy should provide your family with a definite advantage in life and ensure a significant chance of success in future. Strategy needs wisdom. Linear thinkers are not very good at strategy. Effective Strategy requires paradigm thinkers. Short-term thinkers need to think longer term, while long-term thinkers need to think in more detail. A strategy is not a budget, an operational plan or a detailed to do list. Neither is it a research proposal. The document should not be longer than three pages outlining the way forwards for your family and covering the elements I will explain shortly.


Family Strategy needs all the heads in a family to make it happen, but it is the leader(s) of the family that must take responsibility for its execution and management. Before you begin however, you must define who or what your family is. We live in an age where the word "family" has a liberal definition. Your family can range from your extended family relatives, to your religious family, down to your nuclear family and may even just consist of you as an individual. Whatever your definition there are costs and risks attached to it.


For purposes of this discussion I suggest that your family is that which sits around your dining room table and should be able to come to a consensus after a couple of hours of discussion. The alternative to this would be to employ remote sensing devises (satellites and cellphones) to get in touch with all your relatives and take weeks to find out what everyone thinks before you come to a decision on anything.



Second, your strategy will be aided by a uniting philosophy of life, like culture, religion or your family values. A SWOT analysis will give you a clear idea of the gifts, abilities, interests and talents around your family table. Your philosophy and SWOT will clearly indicate what business your family should be in. In some cases, the family will be better off employed than in business. The knowledge of your family gifting will help you plan; not only your retirement and children's education, but also the legacy you want to leave the world. Everyone must leave a legacy even if it is only a tombstone.



Third, you must learn not to trash the hopes, aspirations, roles, career goals and dreams of each member of the family.  Including a wild teenager's intent on making a mockery of the whole occasion. You must resist the temptation to clamp down on your family dream because you think you cannot afford it. Strategic planning is about how to realize dreams. It's not about planning with what you have now. The reason corporate businesses succeed in their plans is that the board of directors have the courage to put their dreams on paper.



Fourth, once you have come through the dream stage. You can set goals. You can advise your daughter that although she wants to be an astronaut in future, she needs to concentrate on getting through grade two this year. Split your dreams into short, medium and long-term goals. Calculate how many years you have left before you are fired or retired and set goals for all the things you want to do before either of them happens. That will give you a clear idea of what you should be doing today. Goals do not need to be cast in stone, but they must never be written in the sand. Goals hold you to account and motivate you to do something.


During our time at the workshop in the game park, we all sat through some very embarrassing presentations of staff who had worked the entire year without goals. They could not account for the time they had spent in the company or on earth for the past 365 days. Though those presentations were made to a human board of directors, the culprits felt like they were in an interview with God. None of them were sure they would have a job when the workshop closed.



Fifth, The core of family strategy is a clear understanding of the family time line. A family timeline is really basic arithmetic. It works like this… If your daughter is 10, your son 15, your spouse 35 and you 45, its very easy to tell how old you will be next year. Obviously your daughter will be 11, you son, 16, your spouse 36 and you 46.


However, consider the realities you will face in your family in ten years when you will have reached retirement age, your spouse approaches menopause and both your children require college fees. How are you going to deal with financial trauma and the emotional drama in your house, without a job or income? Now I have cooked the figures here, but suppose you lose your job before you can make a plan. I hope you can see the seriousness of failing to engage a family strategy immediately. I also hope you can see the importance of engaging a strategic plan as soon as you get married. At this point in my presentation, the audience is usually very quiet as people do private mental calculations and look with renewed interest at their spouse…  



Sixth comes the importance of a financial plan that must answer the question; how will we get the money (resources) we need, when we need it. And how shall we use those resources to achieve our goals?

  1. Lifetime income strategy (Where and how are you going to earn your income?)
  2. Investment strategy (what wealth have you created for your family's future?)
  3. Savings plan (percentage of income, that allows you to prepare for the future)
  4. Expenditure plan (what is an operational budget that will help us live within our means)



Finally, It is not enough to have goals. There must be an action plan with dates times, resource allocations and personal commitments. There must be clear responsibility set for each member of the family. Each child should be clear about how failing an exam may result in cancelling a planned family holiday, just as everyone should take responsibility for putting the lights off at night. Without a strategic plan, families especially spouses, and teenagers tend to sabotage family success by buying clothes, cars and cell phones they don't need to impress people that do not love them. Families actually sabotage their own future by careless strategic behavior. You don't have to get stuck in the Shaba game reserve at night to think about your family's future. Many other things can bog you down.


As I conclude, I must give credit for this talk where it is due… More than a decade ago, we (me and my child) sponsored my wife to study for an MBA. In exchange, we asked her to pay us back by using her education to develop a strategic plan for the family. It was more of a joke then. But she did. And we have used this template with remarkable results for almost two decades.


Ladies and gentlemen, the way I see it, we have three options in our family businesses; 1) get stuck in the mud, 2) engage in family sabotage or 3) develop a family strategy for your own success.


Speech to Rotary Club (NE) on 5th February 2012

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