The mechanics of defining purpose
Working with families, asking the right questions is one of the most important tools in our kitbag. To get the conversation started I often ask families some fairly direct questions: ‘Why are you all still together?’, or ‘Why do you keep your wealth in one collective pot?’
These questions get to the very essence of what makes a family tick. For some, the main objective is to build a legacy for future generations. Some see their role as custodians of a family business while others choose to invest their efforts in making a positive impact on society. Whatever the reasons, understanding the causes and beliefs that motivate a family enable us to help formalise their collective purpose.
Typically, we start with one-to-one conversations as people tend to open up, revealing their perspectives, expectations and thoughts on what the purpose of their wealth should be. Once we have built that rapport we bring the whole family around a table – or a Zoom screen. Here we facilitate a workshop where everyone has equal share of voice to reflect on the themes that emerged during the individual discussions.
Involving the right third party to facilitate conversations around purpose enables someone to approach any disagreements from a neutral standpoint. Furthermore, advisers who work with a number of clients have the benefit of being able to share the experiences of other families. You often see the weight falling off a client’s shoulders when they hear they’re not alone in facing the challenges discussed.
It is important to involve the whole family from the beginning of the process during the early conversations. Families are much more likely to live by it in practice if everyone has been involved in agreeing a shared purpose.
Defining a family’s purpose is not a single conversation. It is something that should be revisited regularly, particularly at trigger points such as births, deaths and marriages but also when children turn 18 or perhaps annually at a family gathering.
Families who engage all members across the generations and ensure understanding, if not total agreement, generally identify and manage the risks to their family. They stand the greatest chance of preserving their wealth across the generations.