What is your Family’s “Why”? How to Establish Shared Values & Vision

In his book “Start with the Why,” author Simon Sinek describes how critical it is for companies to identify, celebrate and communicate the inspiration behind what they do. Simon uses the example of Apple. The company focuses first on their why – the mission to challenge the status quo and think differently. They accomplish this through creating innovative, intuitive technology. That is certainly more inspiring than starting with the what – we make phones and computers. The how and the what are important, but without meaning and a vision, organizations can struggle to inspire. At Cresset we believe it is the same with families.

Many families who have built successful businesses or achieved significant wealth can very clearly describe what they do and how they do it. But what truly keeps a family or a family business headed in the same direction is an agreed upon “why” – a vision that is grounded in the family’s shared values.

As Yogi Berra so charmingly told it, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” At Cresset, our work with families begins with understanding their why so that they are better able to achieve their intended purpose with everyone on board. For some, that why is to sustain a legacy that was created generations ago. For others it is to start a legacy that hopefully lasts for generations to come. For still other families, the why is to keep the family close and create a reason to stay connected. Many families value the potential impact of wealth and believe “to whom much is given, much is expected.” These whys are not mutually exclusive. For many families, they share the above along with a why that is financially driven – to have a financial engine that can provide family members with the means to make an impact today and into the future.

Whatever your why, agreement and a sense of ownership among family members is critical. Without it family members can easily lose sight of the end game – the purpose of their wealth – and shift focus to the money itself. Worse they can feel alienated and unheard. When money is the sole focus, it often gets spent friviously or causes jealousy and infighting leading to broken families.

Defining your Why

When someone asks, “What do you value?” it sounds so simple, but yet it can be difficult to quickly rattle off an answer that defines your core drivers. Fortunately, a variety of tools and activities can be used to help individuals and families uncover their core values.

For example, at Cresset we often use decks of special cards that family members can sort through and rank those values and priorities that drive their behavior. It is important to consider the difference between aspirational values – ones we strive to live by – and core values – the values that are the actual drivers of our actions. For instance, a family may say they share the value of helping the community but have not yet done any charitable work together. Another example is the value of play or balance, which can be an aspirational value.

We encourage families to gain clarity around both as aspirational values help in defining the family’s vision and mission statement as well as in uncovering ways they can add value (pun intended). For example, a self-identified workaholic family shared that they aspire to play more, so we incorporated activities and down time into their family meeting agendas.

The Outcome

Talking as a family about personal and shared values and crafting a beautifully written mission statement is a wonderful first step. But it’s not enough. Gaining clarity on a shared why gives the family a clear lens to make shared decisions. For instance, if a core shared value and part of the mission is philanthropy, the family may decide not to cut back charitable giving in a down market. If education and lifelong learning are a critical part of the family’s why, they may consider ways to support education for family members even in untraditional ways, such as retreats, seminars, online programs and travel.

At Cresset, we are often asked how to engage and empower each generation – especially as they extend further from the wealth creation. The answer begins with defining a clear, agreed upon why and empowering the family to live that why in everything they do.