The family vision statement is one of the most meaningful documents that a family business can create — but only if you use it after you create it. If you write it and put it on your shelf, you might as well not do it. But if you write it, constantly refer to it and use it as a way to get your family to focus on what’s important and where you’re headed, it can be an extremely powerful tool.
For example, if your family’s in an argument about what the final decision on some challenge or some process that you’re working on, you can refer to your vision and ask how the different options will support your vision. Then it can become very clear which one is the better option.
The family vision is a way to help the family focus on what’s important to your end goal, rather than what’s important to you at this moment.
Preparation for writing a family vision
Writing a family vision statement is best done when the family is gathered together, such as at a family meeting.
But before you have a family meeting, get the whole family to do a homework assignment. Have them think about where they want the family to be in reference to a couple of key indicators. Ask them to think about what the family has to do in order to keep pace with the business as it grows in complexity and sophistication over the next 10 years, what transitions will happen on the board in ten years, and also what the family is going to look like in ten years.
You don’t want to write a vision for a hundred years down the road, or three years down the road. You want to write something that’s forward-looking by half a generation. That’s about ten years.
Input from business leaders
When you convene for the family meeting, have the company leaders talk about what their ten-year plan, even at an extremely high level. You want to create an environment where the chairman and other business leaders can talk frankly about where they think they will possibly be, and have the family understand that this is just a ballpark.
The chairman’s job is to explain to the family: If we achieve these business objectives in ten years, this is the kind of board we’ll need. This is the kind of support we’ll need from outside board members and family members.
The family can use that to determine what kinds of capabilities they’ll need to develop within the next ten years to be able to continue to support the business.
Mapping out the family’s growth
When you think about the size and complexity of your family in ten years, there are many things to consider. How many kids who are currently in the youngest generation will be eligible to be part of your family assembly? How many people will age out of leadership roles? In ten years, how many more people will potentially be added to your family, either through marriage or birth?
Once you understand what that landscape is, the family can take a hard look at how the family meets and achieves a vision to accommodate all the things that will be changing in the business, the board and the family.
Key things to remember
- The best family vision statements are simple enough to be summed up quickly, and straightforward enough to be understood by everyone in the family. You should be able to repeat your vision in a series of bullet points or components, so you can constantly talk about it in a very easy way. You don’t want your vision to run three or four pages.
- Focus on the content of the vision rather than over-thinking the language you use to describe it. Spending time doing a lot of wordsmithing is not meaningful, because it takes away from time that could be better spent carrying out what you need to do to achieve your vision. It’s better to have a couple of bullet points the whole family can agree on, rather than writing it out in full sentences. It’s not the vision itself, it’s the focus on where you want to go that will bring the value.
For example, the vision for my family is that we have a deep bench of family leaders and family director candidates, that we’re a good partner with the business, that we remain family-owned, that we have great working relationships with one another, and that the youngest generation’s interaction with the business and the family is exciting, fun and educational. I can rattle that off quickly, because it’s simple and because I understand the spirit of it so I don’t need to worry too much about memorizing the words.
Sitting down with your family to create a few sentences on what you agree on can seem very daunting, but by making it very simple and very focused, it can be one of the most valuable things you can do for your family. It will increase engagement, and allow you to make decisions that align with where you want to go as a family.