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PKF Poutsma Lemon Limited
PKF Poutsma Lemon Ltd, Keri Keri, New Zealand
Accountants and business advisers

The Family Mission Statement

by Robert L. Bates

The old saying goes "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." The long-term road for family businesses can be circuitous and lined with more than a few potholes. Many families with whom we work have found that a recitation of family philosophies, goals, values and principles in the form of a Family Mission Statement can be a valuable road map. When the family is facing its toughest challenges, it is important to come back to a core set of guiding ideologies.

We all know businesses that have company Mission or Vision Statements. In the business context, these statements represent a collection of core beliefs that are designed to lead the business philosophically. These statements do not outline daily operating procedures, but rather delineate the long-term leadership goals and values of the organization. Often, these business statements are forward- looking, while recognizing the important impact of the past in the company's development. A family's Mission Statement serves the same purpose.

For families seeking long-term wealth development involving multiple generations, a Family Mission Statement provides the baseline, the foundation to which the family can continually return. We in the United States have looked to our Constitution for guidance for over 200 years, and similarly, families seek guidance from their mission statements. Like the U.S. Constitution, Family Mission Statements can also be amended and updated when necessary. However, the carefully crafted statement will not require frequent amendment because the essence of the family - the traditions, goals and values - does not change.

Family mission statements are particularly valuable in establishing and maintaining a stable governance system within the family. The mission statement will likely describe the family's commitment to the businesses, communities, and civic and philanthropic causes that uniquely attract the family. By outlining the commitment to the business, the mission statement also has the opportunity to describe the family's vision for future ownership, leadership and management. In that way, the mission statement serves as the flight plan that insures that the family can continually monitor its progress against an agreed upon standard. The family's governance system should be outlined in the statement and it should also describe how this system would guide the family in its long-term wealth development plans.

Family mission statements often meet with resistance when they are first prepared. Questions and comments such as "Why do we need something like that?" and "We know where we are headed" are frequent replies when we first propose developing a mission statement. It has been our experience, however, that when families put forth the effort necessary to draft a meaningful mission statement, most family members appreciate and understand the effort and refer to the statement frequently. The statement can serve to help family members appreciate and understand the past, internalize the present circumstances of family members and actively engage themselves in planning for the future. When a variety of family members are involved in crafting the mission statement, the process can be gratifying for the entire family. The statement typically accentuates the positive memories that define "who we are and what we stand for" as a family.

Another advantage of developing a family mission statement is the frequent acknowledgement of stewardship by the families undertaking the process. By exploring the past, observing the present and contemplating the future, families almost inevitably recognize the role of stewardship in the family. Family members are reminded that those who came before them "planted trees" that they would never see grow to maturity. However, there was a responsibility that was acknowledged and a challenge accepted - to continually grow and build.

The development of a mission statement can often be an agenda item at a family forum meeting. The give and take, the input by all members and the process can be as important as the words in the statement itself. As the family focuses upon its core ideology, values and goals, it is hard not to have the family grow, mature and become closer. Celebrating the past while seizing the future: this is an admirable process that can be the direct result of developing a family mission statement. The time and efforts are worth it!

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