How to Write a Multi-generation Family Values Statement – Step One

Most of you have heard over and over again about the importance of setting and pursuing goals. It is practically a national past time on December 31 every year – to set up those New Years Resolutions. Many companies and individuals are goal oriented, goal driven and are compensated for goal completions. Setting goals is good, but doing that before agreeing on values and the mission is a recipe for failure.

For a family, goals are usually based on values and beliefs. Advisers who work with wealthy families, such as James E. Hughs, stress the importance of first working through a statement of family values, before trying to figure out how to pass the family assets from generation to generation. A major failure in many wealthy families, as they say, is that different family units and members have different ideas of what should be done with the assets. Some want to spend, spend, spend. Others want to give it all away. Some might want to control it to use for only certain purposes. Once the family wealth creator is gone, it is difficult to get agreement from heirs as to how to deal with the family wealth.

Although I’ve written previously about the importance of understanding your family culture, history and values, our family is just starting to formally write up a family values statement. It is turning out to be harder than I thought!

This year in our family meeting, one of the agenda items was to discuss starting some kind of common family fund. That was one of my ‘goals’ for the family. I think that having a common endeavor will give us an opportunity to see how we can work together towards a common goal. However, as it turns out, even after several years of meeting as a multi generation family, members have different perspectives on that goal, based on their own values as well as their stages of life!

So, I volunteered to work with a small group of family to try to put together a draft values statement as a start for a discussion in next years meeting.

One of the first things I did was to prepare and send a survey using Google Forms. Several of the questions on the survey related to values and goals.

For example, I asked:

  • What is most important for future family members to have, be or learn?
  • If we could name one principle or value from which we want our family to operate, what would it be?

From these I learned a bit, but not enough to really proceed.

Next, I sat down to try to draft something up based on what I thought I knew. It was then that I realized that, although we’ve been married for 40+ years and although we have demonstrated a common set of values, we never actually sat down and talked through them as a couple.

So, I asked my spouse for some of his time and just asked ‘What values do you think are most important to live by?’ First, I was surprised by the fact that he immediately and with great articulation expressed several about which he felt very strongly. The values he listed weren’t surprises to me, I was just surprised that he was able to define them so readily!

Before I pass these thoughts along to our little family committee, I need to come up with a way to get those family members to think through their own, and their family unit’s values – without unintentionally influencing them with our thoughts! For this, I believe I will need a guided conversation and I will need them all to have pre-thoughts on the question.

One of our very first group conversations needs to be an answer to the question: Why are we doing this? We need to understand if and how it will benefit our family, what we will do with the answers and how we will demonstrate and pass along those answers to our next gen.

If your family has a values statement or a mission, I would love to hear the process you used, either in the comments below or via email.

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