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Why Not Giving Advice Sometimes Is the Best Thing a Family Business Advisor Can Do

Succession is one of the main challenges for business families. Typically, succession processes are very complex, encompassing a vast range of aspects: legal, financial, organisational, and emotional. Navigating this terrain is also challenging for the family business advisor, who must continually make decisions about how to be most valuable to the business families they serve.

Despite their complexity, succession processes are often approached from a technical perspective, focusing on issues such as tax, finance, and structure. In these areas, advisors can assume the role of a content expert, providing rational solutions and “best practice” advice.

However, while tax, finance, and structure are important for the successful outcomes of most succession processes, they are not sufficient in themselves. They are certainly not the best starting point. Over twenty years of experience in research and advising business families have convinced me that what is needed most for a successful unfolding of a succession process is not experts or technical solutions, but the family members’ ability for mindful self-reflection.

The reason why mindful self-reflection lies at the heart of succession is that such processes challenge some of our deepest human needs: identity, belonging, meaning, and control. Recognising these existential and emotional sides of succession enables conversations around issues and needs otherwise left aside and unfulfilled. When a succession process comes to a halt, it is typically not because of legal or financial problems. Instead, it’s due to individuals’ lack of true awareness about the emotional challenges and the subsequent relational issues—misunderstandings, false assumptions, and hurt feelings—that result from them reacting to emotions rather than mindfully acting on them.

Mindful self-reflection – listening inside to what we feel and need—is something that most of us are not trained to do. An outside person might therefore be helpful as a facilitator of self-reflection. The role of the advisor in this situation is to ask a few meaningful questions and then to listen—with presence and compassion, and with no other goal but the client’s improved self-understanding.

Most family business advisors are comfortable in the role of content expert. We are trained to provide knowledge and to have—and give—answers. However, this is not always the best role to apply, especially not in the early stages of a succession process. The simple reason is that we cannot provide relevant expert advice if we do not know what the client thinks, feels, needs, and wants. And the only one who could possibly know this is the client. This is the reason why mindful self-reflection – not outside advice – is the very source of answers that can truly make a difference to successful and sustainable succession processes in business families.


About the Author:


Annika Hall is AIMS International’s Senior Advisor, Family Business Consulting

Annika is an Advisor specializing in corporate governance and succession planning in family businesses, processes where the ability for constructive problem-solving is essential. Her work focuses on facilitating communication and helping the owning family work towards solutions that everyone can agree on. With over twenty years of experience as a family business advisor, she has worked with family businesses of different generations, sizes, and industries.

Annika holds a doctoral degree in business administration with a focus on family businesses. She has extensive international experience teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. Her subjects include leadership, strategy, organizational theory, qualitative methodology, consulting and family businesses