OCEAN CITY — Last week, we looked at three suggestions on creating a family mission statement, courtesy of Stacy Allred, director of the Wealth Structuring Group at Merrill Lynch.
Also known as a family constitution, strategic plan or code of conduct, such a statement can be valuable first steps toward uniting everyone in a family around goals and the actions needed to make them a reality. Here are some more ideas to consider.
Keep it focused. Work together to summarize the values and goals you’ve defined in a crisp and memorable statement — ideally a single sentence or short paragraph. Ultimately, you’re looking to create a statement general enough to be timeless, yet specific enough to apply to real-life issues. If you have more ground to cover, the overarching statement can be supplemented with a list of supporting values or guidelines. For example, wealthier families may want to make provisions for resolving conflicts among heirs to an estate, while families with a business may include a framework for distributing profits and making major decisions.
Check your authenticity. Just as sometimes happens with companies, it’s all too easy for a family to create a feel-good mission statement that simply gathers dust on the wall. To be effective, your statement needs to be authentic, Allred says. In other words, don’t just craft a statement because it sounds nice. "It needs to be in your words and language — to sound like you — and to be something you really believe in," she notes. "It can be a stretch, something you aspire to, but it should reflect values you are currently living and striving for."
Keep it front and center. Whether you frame and mount your mission statement or simply post it on the refrigerator, it’s important to have it on hand. "This is a dynamic document — you should be reading it and using it," Allred says. She suggests reviewing your family’s statement when weighing life-altering decisions, such as a job change or major financial investment. "It should not just sit on the shelf."
Put it into action. The "use it or lose it" maxim applies here — to realize the goals you’ve had in creating your mission statement, you’ll need to make it part of your planning and decision making on a regular basis. Beyond the statement of the mission itself, it can also assist in creating a list of values or a governance procedure that can help you adhere to the statement. For example, a family whose mission statement centers on making education a priority for future generations can then, with the help of a financial advisor, create further, more specific guidance toward making savings and investing decisions. It also helps to get in the habit of asking yourself how the plans that you’re making — a career change, an investment decision, community involvement — fit your values. Some families even hold brief weekly meetings to discuss issues of concern to individual family members, using their mission statement and attendant guidance in counseling one another.
Revisit and revise annually. Even if you’re not holding weekly meetings, plan to get together annually as a family to discuss the mission and gauge family members’ success in achieving their goals.
(A Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Advisor, who can be reached at 410-213-8520.)