Aspen current thinking column


Spring 2013

August 2019 Current Thinking Column

Sunday, August 11, 2019


by Joe Paul
Aspen Family Business Group

When I shared my draft on Values with the Aspen Family Business Group, I discovered there is genuine interest in the topic and appreciated my colleague’s suggestions and input. I have integrated some of them into this article and hope that you too find them useful as a starting point for discussion in your own families and businesses.

I was reminded by AFBG Partner Leslie Dashew, that Ann Dapice, creator of the “Values Unfolding Instrument” defines a value as “that which is important to us.”

Leaders of family businesses often presume that their personal values for both the business and the family have been clearly spelled out for all of the other stakeholders to see. Unfortunately, that assumption is often incorrect, because family businesses differ widely from other families in the frequency and consequences of the decisions they make.

From an anthropological perspective, values have evolved in societies to manage the behavior of individuals in their own group, as well as among groups. Values manage the tension between self-interest and the collective interests of the group. Sometimes they give the individual or the group a competitive advantage.

Values vary from culture to culture, from group to group within a culture, and from individual to individual within the group. Variables such as history, geography, a leader’s clarity of purpose, mobility, intelligence, and the degree of trust across psychological and group boundaries can all have an influence on an individual’s and group’s values.

As our Turkish colleague and AFBG Associate, Burak Kocer, offered, “Values are intangible and invisible like an iceberg, but their artifacts are tangible and visible. We can observe the values wide spread in an organization with those artifacts like in the names of meeting rooms, paintings on the walls, or furniture. We can observe how owners’ values influence a workspace.”

Values guide one’s behavior, shaping one’s preference, and can develop and change through our lives. For example, one source of values is called “Deprivation values”. If one grows up without financial security, it can influence what values drive us forward. And once it is no longer an issue some other value may replace it becoming more important, like spending time with loved ones or philanthropy.

It can also sometimes lead to destructive entitlement. Values can be harmful leading one to doing things they might not otherwise have done or what we call thinking errors.

Values can be divided into categories.

  • Personal standards of behavior, or principles by which a person makes choices in life is one category. For instance, the statement, “Trust is more important than love in family relationships,” is an example of this type.
  • The monetary worth of something is another kind of value.

It is interesting to consider the interplay between sources of values, such as internal, family, peers, media, social institutions, community, etc., and their influence in the development of our values.

Some of these ideas have “come home to roost” for me. I have enjoyed an avocation as a whitewater rafting guide for many years. It has taken me to some remote places on earth and it is something I have been able to share with my family and children. A few years back we had a very adventurous trip in South America where I became ill the last day and which also happened to coincide with my eldest son’s birthday. It was with some trepidation I decided it was time to pass on the mantle and gave my son my river knife in acknowledgement that it was now his turn to start leading our family trips. Since then he and my youngest son and their wives have jointly taken on the responsibility of organizing and leading our annual river trips. It was partly necessitated by my Parkinson’s diagnosis but also the recognition that in spite of the bittersweet feelings for me of letting go, it was time for them to move into positions of leaders.

This year prior to our trip the kids (all in their thirties) created a river support covenant that recognized mine, my wife, and, their needs, to feel safe and comfortable on the river. At first, I thought it was a clash of our values because I was looking for personal freedom and they wanted to feel that I was safe. Upon reflection I realized their document came from a place of deep love and respect with a true desire to allow me the opportunity to enjoy time with them without a lot of unnecessary tension.

The covenant is almost two pages long, but I’d like to share an excerpt that feels like a good example of what I’ve talked about earlier. If anyone is interested in reading more of it, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Dad/Joe River Support Covenant June 2019

  • We all want the same thing—to enjoy the river together safely, with Dad/Joe as full participant within his abilities—so meeting each other where we’re at to communicate respectfully about any concerns that arise is key
  • Emotion is involved for everyone, both in terms of fear and anxiety and in terms of frustration and annoyance, but no one wants to be controlling or angry. When suggestions are made we can always talk about the suggestion versus the tone of voice as separate issues that we can improve to facilitate communication
  • In the words of Dad/Joe, which Silas and Chris remember from their childhood, “if we are yelling at each other on the river, it is not from anger but is our attempt to communicate (urgency or volume)”
  • Dad feels like he’s a burden on everyone and that it would be easier for him to withdraw
  • We should respond to the emotion he has about this rather than the behavior: “we know you want us to not feel like you’re a burden, so remember this conversation and do these things to not be a burden”
  • We can say: “You want to give your family the gift of feeling safe and good about you. One way to take care of your family is to not put yourself in a situation that causes us anxiety.”
  • Dad’s interior goal is to take care of his family. Our goal is to help Dad keep his circle big.
  • Respond to our emotion too: worry/anxiety/concern comes from a place of love and wanting Dad to be involved yet safe
  • Putting himself at risk is felt by everyone
  • Things that don’t feel like risk to Dad still feel like risk to others around him
  • Dad likes adventure and therefore doesn’t see it as a “risk”
  • Bottom line: Dad/Joe is not a burden. It is our pleasure to help keep these experiences possible for everyone to do together by putting some extra thought and work into our support of Dad/Joe.

Our family’s new mantra is “Thoughtful Risk”.

I’ve included some thoughts and exercises you can share with your family.

  • There is sometimes a gap between one’s stated values and the values that are expressed in actual behavior. Consider the definition of integrity is to live according to one’s values.
  • One’s values are often only marginally conscious. The articulation of one or another’s personal values along with the consideration of their priorities often clarifies one’s thinking.
  • An individual’s most important values may vary across separate roles and sets of responsibilities associated with those roles. For instance, one may actually have differing value priorities (perhaps even a different list of values) as a manager, owner and family member.
  • The expression of one’s values can range from active, to reactive, to responsive, to proactive, to interactive, to inspirational, depending on the psychological state.
  • Sometimes the expression of one’s values is done aggressively and designed to capture “mind space” in another person.
  • The stability of one’s values across contexts, and across roles, may be a measure of the ethical development of the individual.
  • The stability and degree of convergence of values across individuals in a group effects the functioning of the group.
  • Understanding the primary values of others in one’s group facilitates communication. For instance, when two or more people share ownership, management responsibilities and kinship it is important to have a good understanding of each other’s values.

Here is an exercise you can use to begin a family discussion. You can use the 'List of Values' chart in several ways to help understand each other’s values, and to clarify the values of the group.

For instance, you can have sub groups of the family meet. During a family retreat you can break into two groups, one for the successor generation and another group for their elders. It is important for the two groups to meet separately. Each of the groups could be directed to look at the list of values and highlight the top 5 values they want the business to be known for in the community. Once everyone has picked their preferred 5 traits they could share their individual lists. Then they could negotiate with each other to select the final 5 values. Both of the groups could then share their negotiated lists and negotiate the final 5 values.

Another use of the list of values would be for the family business leader to pick values you would want to be known for as the leader of the family business. Then pick 5 values you would like to be known for as a parent. You could then look at the results to see any differences in the 2 lists that could cause you problems in either of those roles.

Consider a third exercise, that might be appropriate to a specific issue you and your family are facing. Much as our family did with our river trip covenant, go through the list of varying values of each person and any conflict or stress that is surrounding this issue might be lessened or eliminated once each person understands why people are doing what they do.

CHART: List of Values
View/Download the aforementioned chart with the list of values




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