SHARED VALUES IN A

MULTIGENERATIONAL FAMILY

by Susan Fulford

A youthful family office founder stated,

“Having more money does not make you proportionately happier, past a certain amount”

 

as he looked around a room full of family office representatives. Remarkably, for a panel discussion on entrepreneurial investing, the next 40 minutes continued to circle back to values as the cornerstone and driver of every family office investment decision. Remarkable or obvious? 

Values are utilised to identify families, businesses, organisations, faith, political parties and memberships, globally. They are fundamental and definitional to all. Ellen M. Perry writes that “Values are caught, not taught” in her 2009 article “Passing on Values to the Next Generation”.  If we accept Perry’s theory and observations as foundational and extrapolate – it can take us on a wonderful journey of discovery. 

Will you join us?  What are your Values? 

 

If values can easily be observed by the people that spend time with you – then it is probable that our children, siblings, parents, cousins, and extended family members can readily identify our values for us, so too can the people we interact with daily. It is uninteresting and indulgent to list our own values – although by this paragraph you have already identified values you hope you exhibit. 

 

Be brave, ask others what your top five values are. Do not explain why – just send an email. Ask people you work with, your neighbours, your relatives and collect their lists objectively. Don’t invite discussion at all. If you asked 10 people to list your top five values – is there consistency in their answers? What if that consistency measures 3 or 4 of 5 values are replicated by all? 

 

Do you like what they list as your values? If your internal list of values is echoed in their feedback, can we conclude that you are living life authentically? Perhaps. One thing is certain, if you are surprised by what they write, an opportunity is now presented for you to recalibrate your future choices. 

 

The Value Bridge: 

 

When working with multi-generational families, many practitioners start with values. Why? Because values are the ties that bind us together and/ or can wedge large divides in the family dynamics and, yes, particularly inter-generationally. So how do we bridge the gaps? Well, with values of course. 

 

During a family meeting, a quick and fun exercise, that literally gets the entire family on the same page, is to do a ‘Value Bridge’. Ask every member of the family to list the top 5 values of their parents. Spouses & in-laws will write about their parents, Family Matriarch’s and Patriarch’s will write about their individual parents and so on. No one will ever write about themselves. The more generations, the more in-laws the better! If you have ‘soon to be’ married-in’s this can be a powerful inclusive exercise for them. 

 

Then start with the most senior family member by age and ask them to share their list. They will likely share a memory or two to explain what the value was rooted in, why it was so important, and this is where the bridge starts to form. It can be an incredibly poignant exercise in story-telling and family history. Proceed down the family, eldest to youngest, until all have spoken. 

 

It is likely that 3 or 4 out of 5 core values will have been caught by the next generation. It is probable that married or soon-to-be married couples’ parents share the same core values. The core values as displayed through the families and generations are the values that have been ‘caught’ by the next generation. In this exercise, the individual family members often gain confidence in their next generation’s understanding and adoption of their core values. It can also lead to understanding why certain relationships have formed [in-laws, married-in’s]. It is often a ‘feel good’ exercise. Capturing the Value Bridge  in writing can often contribute to the Values for the Family Assembly minutes. The same values are often echoed in operational businesses, philanthropic endeavours and wealth investment policy statements. 

 

Identifying core values is a significant step to creating successful cultural continuity for global families. When Values are not aligned: 

The exercise can also provoke a heartfelt conversation from Next Generations when they consciously refuse to accept, haven’t experienced or do not embrace values they don’t relate too. It can be a fundamental rebellion that is the root of a family dynamic challenge. If values were a ball - thrown from the senior family members to the Next Generation – it only succeeds or thrives - if the Next Generation choses to catch the ball. As Perry identified, the receiver [Next Generation] chooses to catch and adopt the value as their own, or they let it pass them by and it falls/ fails. 

Impact: 

 

When values are not ‘caught’ it can signal social change. A 5th generation client once identified the core values of the family system over two continents and 100 years [and about 60 + individuals]. As a young soon-to-be married man, he articulated his choice to identify monogamy as one of his individual core values which was a departure from the family history. 

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