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Documenting the values of a family is an important step in helping to build family legacy.  I use the word 'documenting' because most families do not take the time to write down what is fundamentally important to the family.  Our family faced the same inclination to avoid the hard work of putting into words the values that were the bases of our decisions.

Today's family business consultants commonly describe this process as documenting a family mission statement.  The process can seem to be exhausting but pays rich dividends later.  It forces families to evaluate specific statements of values rather than depend on verbal expressions that are nebulous.

However, it is my experience it is not enough to discover the values of the family.  It is more useful to discover the foundation for those values.  I am convinced that values are not the bedrock of what directs the family.  What is at the heart is the foundation.  This may be more of a problem of definitions between values and foundation.

There are 4 questions that clarify foundation for values and mission statements.  Those questions are:

  1. How did we get here?

  2. What is our purpose?

  3. What happens when we die?

  4. How does our family handle disagreements centering on questions 1-3?

Some people are skeptical of these questions because they are weighty.  What is interesting is that every single person operates on assumed answers to questions 1-3.  Question 4 is seldom discussed for fear of conflict and division.  However, if question 4 is not answered by open communication, the answer will emerge by default and usually burden the family with harsh implementation with no understanding.  A worthy goal is to compare the source(s) of answers to questions 1-3 to evaluate which source provides a path to answer question 4.

The senior generation of a family in business generally has the perceived authority to oversee the family and business in accordance with the senior generation’s answers to the questions.  This is generally the foundation for the family mission statement and values.  However, it is never simply an evaluation of one set of answers.  It is always a comparison of various answers and which answers provides the best approach to question 4.

Examine and document the foundation.  There are generally disagreements but the process will be worthwhile in developing healthy communication within the family.  Remember, not examining the foundation means the family will operate on default status, true communication will be thwarted and hidden agendas will rule.

Grant D. Goodvin, Founder of Family Legacy Consultant Group.

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