Communication and Governance Strategies for Family Enterprises


  • Cory introduces the episode and guest, Trudy Pelletier, an expert in communication and governance for family enterprises.
  • Trudy’s extensive background includes 14 years of experience in private and family enterprises, holding designations in family enterprise advising, certified exit planning, executive coaching, and mediation.

Trudy’s Inspirational Journey:

  • Cory asks Trudy to share her inspiring journey and lessons learned.
  • Trudy recounts a pivotal childhood moment when she decided to help people communicate better, leading her to her current career.
  • She emphasizes the importance of understanding how childhood experiences shape our lives and the need to live life with purpose and self-regulation.

Facilitating Better Communication:

  • Trudy defines her role as facilitating difficult conversations within families, making them easier by promoting positive intent, compassion, and acceptance.
  • She highlights the necessity for families with wealth and businesses to engage in these conversations, especially regarding money matters.
  • Trudy emphasizes that improving communication within families is an inside-out process.

Addressing Resistance in Family Communication:

  • Cory asks about handling resistance from family members who avoid difficult conversations.
  • Trudy explains that resistance is natural and offers coaching to deal with it effectively.
  • She discusses how brain-driven behavior can hinder communication and progress.

Challenges in Wealth Transition:

  • Trudy discusses common challenges families face in wealth transition and continuity, including unresolved family history impacting communication and affinity.

Starting Family Conversations:

  • Trudy explains the initial steps in initiating these conversations, often starting with one family member.
  • She emphasizes the importance of meeting with the entire family to assess their needs and her suitability for the task.

Overcoming Biases and Stories:

Trudy addresses strategies for overcoming biases and stories that hinder effective communication, emphasizing the need for personal responsibility and building communication skills.

Qualities of a Successful Family Enterprise Leader:

  • Cory asks Trudy about the top three qualities she believes successful family enterprise leaders possess.
  • Trudy identifies purpose, acceptance, and curiosity as essential qualities for success in this role.

[Cory:]Today, I’m excited to introduce our esteemed guest who will provide further insights into the exciting intersection of succession planning and family enterprise. My goal is to be the most curious person in today’s conversation with Trudy Pelletier.

Trudy is a communication specialist and governance expert with fourteen years experience in private and family enterprise. She empowers leaders to resolve conflicts, navigate complexity and build governance in family, business, and ownership systems to fulfill their biggest dreams. She holds designations in family enterprise advisor, certified exit planning advisor, certified executive coach, and mediator.

Welcome Trudy. We’re thrilled to have you here today to share your wealth of knowledge and experience in this fascinating realm. Let’s dive in. Shall we?

[Cory:]Now, should you imagine you’re delivering a commencement speech to a graduating class and you have a chance to inspire them with your story. How would you begin your speech to convey the incredible lessons and expertise you’ve gained along your career?

[Trudy:]I would start with a defining moment that I had when I was eight years old. And I was in a small town in Saskatchewan, which is where I grew up, and I was talking to an influential woman in our community with my sister, Diane. And, it was a trauma. And I was telling her what happened except it was a lie? And as an eight-year-old, I was expecting her to say, “You know, it’ll be okay. Things will work out.” And she said nothing. And It was several years later when I discovered that that defining moment had shaped and formed my entire career. Because what I thought as an eight-year-old is when I grow up, I’m gonna help people talk better. And today, I have the privilege of doing that. And I didn’t remember that defining moment. It was an invisible decision, a forgotten decision until I went about twenty-five years ago to a workshop to discover my purpose in life, and they took us through those defining moments. And as human beings, we all have the defining moments. So I would invite the graduating class to remember that life really is sourced by the invisible, the pervasive, that we have as children, small traumas, big traumas, victories, and it shapes and colors our life. So to take a walk on the inside and to live life on purpose, to master oneself and regulate.

[Cory:]Trudy, when you when you said help people talk better, what does that mean to you?

[Trudy:]Well, I facilitate difficult conversations. That is my specialty, and the word facilitate means make easy. So yesterday, I was talking to a family member. I’m not yet engaged. We’ve been exploring working together. And he was explaining that the patriarch is very conflicted verse. He doesn’t like difficult conversations, and if nobody likes difficult conversations. And when we take them on with purpose, positive intent, compassion and acceptance. It actually elevates our respect and connection. Yes. And so, you know, helping people talk better, I make easy the difficult conversations. And most families who are up to stewarding wealth, transitioning and operating business, creating purpose for their wealth must have difficult conversations because most families don’t like to talk about money. As one example.

[Cory:]Yes. And in those conversations, you know, specifically in your intro, you I mentioned the word governance, where does that fit into to these conversations that they must have?

Well, governance, corporate governance, is well-accepted in public and private enterprise, right, structure. Ownership governance, unanimous shareholders agreements, buyout plans, all of that is a form of governance. The least cared for system is the family system. And here’s the thing, every family requires governance. When I was raising my kids who are now adults, but when I was raising them, I considered governance as discipline and responsibility. So families who have much at stake really create a new future and a better ratio of beating the odds when they formalize their governance, have a shared family vision and mission, a shared purpose for wealth, core values, defining success, having a shared success statement. Those are some of the elements of governance that I help families build and design. And it’s an inside-out job.

[Cory:]So from a difficult conversation, you mentioned, this person that you were having a conversation with, and mentioned that the patriarch doesn’t like difficult conversations. I can imagine people who’ve you know, been embedded in in habits through their life. Resist a little bit more. Tell me just on the get started with some of those families where, maybe there is that resistance from key family members.

[Trudy:]Well, resistance is pervasive for human beings. We wake up Monday morning, and we wish it was Friday or Saturday. It’s not only called conversations we’re resisting. We actually resist people because in the background, we want them to be different than what they are. Or we don’t like that they’re this way or that way. And so resistance is pervasive. That’s not a problem. One of the requirements that I tell families, it does not matter what space you are in as long as you’re willing to be in communication. So I can deal with resistance. I can deal with any level of emotion and cause a breakthrough. And if they take themselves out of communication, then no difference can be made. And when people are upset, that is often brain-driven behavior is to turn away and not be in communication.

[Cory:]Yes. Now you mentioned, I wanna go back to the comment you made about when the stakes are high. What sort of stakes have you experienced? What situations might, resonate with our listeners?

[Trudy:]Well, family relationships, love, and affinity. Most people don’t have the experience of love and affinity being present in communication. And I have not ever met a family that does not love each other. It’s just that it’s often below some family history that has not been resolved.

And when I say resolved, I don’t mean agreed upon. I mean that there’s been the freedom to share each other’s experience authentically and have that be gotten, have that being heard, seen, and understood in a way that leaves nothing left unsaid. That’s part of what resolved means. People collapse experiences and language. Also, one of the challenges in communication is, on average, words have twenty-five different meanings. So what respect is to you, Cory may not be what respect is to a colleague or to your brother or your father or your mother. Slowing down to really understand what people mean by the language that they’re using is part of what I do and the work that I do.

I will also wanna clarify what governance is. I think that’s an overused and often misunderstood word. Governance, the purpose of governance is to increase and build alignment, improve communication so that better decisions are made. I love that. Increase and build alignment. And within that alignment and family enterprises where the stakes are high, and some of these conversations haven’t been had, what would you say is the typical first step, or you mentioned the conversation with one of the children, I believe, is what you mentioned. This is the second generation. So gen two is coming in, the rising generation, and there’s something that they’re feeling. Can you explain the way that those conversations begin, from one family member that probably would be typical, or would there be, you know, the group coming to you because they’ve identified an issue?

So it often comes to me through referrals, although families find me themselves. It is often generated by one family member. And the first step is to meet the family and get a sense as to what they want and need and get a sense as to whether or not I’m the right fit. I do not assume that I’m the right fit. I was introduced to a new family about two and a half months ago. I went to have an hour meeting with the daughter and the mother, the matriarch. I spent three and a half hours with them that afternoon because that is what was wanted and needed in terms of them relieving some of the stress that the dynamics are causing them. It’s being driven by a health issue and a health concern, so that adds to the tension. It’s not uncommon that one person brings me in. But before I do anything, I meet the family. And sometimes that includes spouses, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s getting the multiple perspectives. I also then have an opportunity to observe how they talk over each other, how much they listen or probably what’s better said, don’t listen to each other and get a sense as to the dynamics. Again, because I am committed to making a sustainable difference, and that is not about pushing rope. There’s gotta be an appetite. Not an appetite for governance, an appetite to live into a future of alignment and harmony and well-being. My work doesn’t leave people never dealing with breakdown. My work leaves them equipped to deal with it faster and productively. In a way that doesn’t build resentment. How do we deliver the tough messages in a palatable way?

[Cory:]Absolutely. And you mentioned ethics, which to me is very similar to when you talked about the shared vision, mission, and values. Can you go a little bit deeper into what that shared mission, you talked about the five generations? That’s very aspirational. Vision and mission in that family. How about from a values perspective? People tend to understand the individual values and the shared values within the family structure.

[Trudy:]No, and rarely do people think about it. Rarely do people take the time to articulate and define their values. It’s one of the first things that I have families do. I can tell you that I was working with a family in Edmonton last year. There had been a fracture in the family since the late nineties. The generation before, two brothers who were in business, their wives at some point stopped speaking to each other. This is now a generational pattern that is forming. They went through a very thoughtful and reflective values exercise. This is not what are your values, and we take the first things that come from our brain. It’s thoughtful. It’s reflective. It is done individually, and then it’s done between husband and wife, and then it’s done collectively in the family. In this family, there were sixteen family members in the room, three family branches. They were astonished that despite the divide, their shared values became the foundation of every decision going forward.

And as you mentioned, people are programmed to look at the differences, and you helped them see what was in common. People use different words to describe the same thing. Part of discovering that common ground is looking at the language. What does compassion mean to you? What does acceptance mean? It’s very easy then to start to theme values together, such that these sixteen family members from three family branches can land on seven values. I work with seven inside of their seven days in the week, and families can choose one value each day of the week and talk about it and use it in their language and be really on purpose with that value. It’s a way to cultivate accountability around having family members honor what they say is most important.

[Cory:]Absolutely. Let’s go back to risk management. Just told the story of thirty years of divide within that family. There’s a lot at stake there and embedding that into those next generations. What do we see when businesses don’t have that? And families don’t have those structures in place. Have they foreseen where they were going based on the trend that had been developed? 

[Trudy:]They’ve seen none, it was other advisors that, in this particular case, brought me to the table. I can tell you the second-generation family member that I spoke to yesterday said that there’s a divide in that first generation, and they’re not taking action, and that’s a source of frustration. I’m working with another family where the second generation is in litigation and has been for several years.

And so the third generation brought me in to avoid that. So what do I see?

I see families who love each other and have limited capacity to experience that and express that and have that be present for the worries, concerns, and family history playing out. 

[Cory:]Absolutely. And do you find that sometimes your work, as a mediator you need to go in with that hat on. You made mention of of litigation. And I’m sure there’s that generation that’s been fighting for a while, had many different professionals come in and work with them.

Do you find that at points that mediator hat needs to be there first?

[Trudy:]Well, I don’t separate the hats that way. And, I would say my primary hat I have two.

So, I have a coach approach style. So if that is not, if you don’t wanna be developed and personally and collectively growing through the process, I’m not the right person to work with you. And I’m a communication specialist. So I have a bias. I tell everybody, Cory my bias, and my bias is communication can resolve anything.

The problem is most people stop talking. They carry that conversation around in their head, consuming time and energy and space, affecting that person’s well-being, peace quality of life, or they turn to someone and they vent and complain, and it creates a divide. So there isn’t anything that can’t be resolved in communication from where I sit. Sometimes, often, most times, they get to discover how big of a human being they are. By being in communication. So I can tell you at the last family meeting at the end of June with this family, I modeled how a conversation could go between that second generation patriarch and that second generation sibling.  

To resolve, not the litigation, but the broken hearts. And we’re exploring taking that on this fall. Now we don’t know if that sibling’s gonna be willing to have that conversation. And it removes the blame. It removes the fault. It removes the resentment.

That second generation patriarch that I’m working with is dealing with his broken heart first before he can go and have that conversation with that sibling and it’s all possible. Now that’s privileged work that I get to do.

[Cory:]Absolutely. and to see the possibility when others may not is a gift to those families.

[Trudy:]I’m standing for something. Right? I’m standing for them to transform whatever must be transformed and in order for them to have what they want, which in my experience is people wanna be loved and understood and accepted for who they are and accepted for who they are not and appreciated. And life’s hurts and, small traumas, big traumas get in the way of that.

[Cory:]And if we go back to success, people define success in in a different way, and and you made mention of success statements. How do those benefit the families in what way do they benefit them?

[Trudy:]Well, one, it builds understanding. Right? When we can have eight or ten, twelve family members sharing what individual success means to them, how they measure it, externally as well as intrinsically. And then again, we’re looking for common ground to create a family success statement. Creating family governance in my work is the easy part. It’s cultivating the accountability are we honoring our values? Are we interacting with each other in a way that is aligned with our purpose, our mission, who we say we’re becoming as a family in our vision.

And for human beings, there are, there’s a body of work out there called the veil of invisibility.

There’s eleven ways in which you and I as human beings don’t see how what we say matters to us the most, is in our actions are incongruent with.

I help people discover that and coach them in and around that and not from a place of bad and wrong. From a place of we get gripped by our humanity and we step away and we don’t Act can grow at length with our values.

Not a problem. I call it in my work a mud pie, and I give them conversation tools and structures to go and clean up the mud pies faster, quicker rather than carrying it around for a week, a month, a year, and in some instances, three to four years.

[Cory:]Wow. That mud pie, and you made a comment of what they say and their actions. Going back that, that eight-year-old girl, what do you think from today that person that you looked up to could have said to you, from that perspective?

[Trudy:]Well, I wanted her to tell up me that we are gonna be okay and for years, I actually resented her. Saying nothing. And then in, two thousand and eight, I believe I was in Houston under the training of doctor Dee Martini. His work is about looking for the other side that we don’t typically see. So I was hurt. There was resentment. Despite discovering that  communication was the common thread in all of my career.

I still had this resentment and through his process, in Houston, I discovered that maybe the safest thing she could have done for us was say nothing. In that moment, all that resentment that I had dissolved, because I really let myself see the other side. So life is always a balance. There’s an upside, a downside, and another side. And when we built the muscle to be looking for that, We actually, discover the giant within ourselves because it is easy to hang on to resentment.

I share with people lots of lots of family members have bags of mud pies that they’re carrying around and I get to go and help them clean that up, coach them with the tools and distinctions.

And their courage is inspiring because they’re doing that. They’re the ones being in communication so best thing she could have done is what she did. I am doing what I’ve been put on the planet to do, sourced by that experience and I’m maybe you’ve gotten.

I’ve had a pretty volatile childhood. And everything that happened. I’m resolved with I’m complete with. I’m at peace with. My parents know that I’m grateful.

For how it was and how it wasn’t and who they were and who they weren’t and that gives me the opportunity to be the space for anything that a family is dealing with that can be resolved in communication.

[Cory:]Absolutely and an amazing thing to be able to bring to a family or things that you’re not bringing into a family because, as you call it, the mud pie, they’ve all got something that’s there that maybe they haven’t identified, and those experiences that you get to come in and help them work through.

[Trudy:]Yeah. And I go first. You know, effective communication is a now phenomenon. It’s not a destination. I make my own mud pies. You know, I’m not perfect. It’s like cleaning it up, being responsible being in communication sooner than later to resolve. We most human beings I mean, I’ve never met a human being who wakes up to upset someone or hurt someone. So often in family life, it’s unintended consequences. We have unintended impact on each other. And being able to have someone say, hey, what you did or what you said or how you said it hurt  me. 

Me being able to get that without defending it, which is brain-driven behavior, without reacting to it, brain-driven behavior, then we become closer, we create being understood and understanding the other, and so love and affinity is present as a result.

[Cory:]That’s great and in your experience, what are the top three qualities that a successful family enterprise leader possesses?

[Trudy:]Purpose? Acceptance. And we tend to think of acceptance as one dimension. So I said it earlier. I’ll say it again. I accept you for who you are and who you are not and inside of the accepting who you are not, I actually give up what’s in the background that I wish that you were.

That’s true of circumstances. I accept the circumstances of what is and what isn’t. Our brain walks around knowing I know what they’re gonna say. I know what they’re gonna do. I know how this is gonna go. And it actually is a barrier in communication. So being curious.

Being open, it’s a deliberate human on purpose act. We don’t walk around that way. We actually have to put something aside, have our brain relax, so that we can be curious. And inside of being curious, we’re asking questions, listening to understand rather than listening to respond, listening on purpose, suspending our judgments. So those would be the three that I would say. Purpose acceptance and curiosity. 

[Cory:]Great! Before we wrap up today’s conversation, I want to make sure that we’ve covered everything. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our audience that we didn’t get a chance to touch on?

[Trudy:]There are many pathways to creating governance for unity and harmony and successful wealth transition. There’s no one right pathway. Do you the personal work? Be interested and curious about your family members and share share share. 

[Cory:]I love that. Thank you, Trudy! Thank you for taking the time, and sharing your expertise and experiences with us today. Your insights have been incredibly valuable.

I’m personally grateful, and and I’m sure listeners will be, uh, to the your contribution to our episode.

[Trudy:]Thank you. It’s a real pleasure to be with you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Thanks, Trudy.

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