It’s time to turn uncertainty into growth

‘As we face increased uncertainty, now is the time to shift our focus to growth and building a confident future for ourselves and our families.’

It’s time to turn uncertainty into growth


Purpose. Wellbeing. Connection. These themes have come into sharp focus for us all in recent months. They are the intangible measures that deliver growth for individuals, families and businesses on the rise or rebound. But do we place the same value on these as we do on more immediate financial metrics like profit, cash or employment?

For those who have suffered through the COVID crisis, it’s the loss of purpose, lack of connection and threats to our physical, mental and financial wellbeing that has made it especially challenging. As we face increased uncertainty about the future, how can we shift our focus to growth and a confident path forward for ourselves and our families?

It is our values that shape how we each personally relate to these ideas of purpose, wellbeing and connection within the context of our lives. And it is our values too that guide the decisions we make and the way we live as individuals, families and society.

When COVID restrictions were announced, most of the cafes in our small town closed for a few days, re-opened with tables pushed up to the doorways and crosses taped on the pavement. Some didn’t re-open at all. Many reduced their operating hours. There was an underlying sense of anxiety.

There was one exception. This cafe didn’t reduce their hours, they increased them. ‘What else is there to do?’ quipped the owner, Jimmy. They re-configured their space and used coffee beans to make hearts on the tables that formed the required barrier. The tone was upbeat and optimistic. They always took the time to have a chat, regardless of the size of the queue.

They started selling toilet roll as the fear of sheltering in place took hold – ‘we had loads out the back and wanted to help’. Next was a freezer of ice-creams – ‘a supplier had them sitting in a warehouse and was going to have to dump them all’. Then fresh bread, fruit and veg. Like many others, the cafe slowly became a general store. But not your typical store as all of these items were being sold at cost – ‘to keep our suppliers in business and to help the community’. Every time they stocked something new, you knew about it. ‘Try this new dip we made from the extra carrots in season’ – a story about a supplier they were helping out.

It was becoming clear Jimmy and his team were driven by a purpose beyond mere financial survival. They were looking after the community; a community they saw themselves as an integral part of, with an opportunity – if not an obligation – to help those who helped them.

What stood out were the small acts. There was always free stuff. Marshmallows and fairy floss for the kids. If you ordered two of something, they gave you three. When Jimmy would gently chide his staff ‘no, don’t charge them for that’ he was saying, our core value is generosity – ‘we’re in this together’.

When the local Woolies were running out of stock, Jimmy started ordering more of the meats and produce his customers liked. As the weeks rolled on, groceries became an established part of the business. If you couldn’t get a certain kind of milk, they found it for you. They made up food boxes of essential items for pick up and delivery as farmers’ markets were suspended and supermarket delivery services overloaded.

When we talk with our clients about ‘community’ and ‘giving back’, the conversation can get consumed by philanthropy. For Jimmy’s cafe, values around community, compassion and generosity were integral to the way the business operated. They asked, how can we support the people around us? What can we do to make a small difference?

Their actions came from a set of values and a clear purpose that reflected what mattered most to them. And while their motives were not financial, these altruistic values ultimately helped Jimmy’s business grow through a time of financial crisis.

What keeps you up at night?

We have led in-depth roundtable discussions with over a thousand business leaders, families and advisers. In each of these forums, we used to ask the open-ended question, ‘What keeps you up at night?’. Responses would typically lean toward urgent strategic or operational decisions that dominate our day-to-day lives and consume our immediate attention. We stopped asking this question.

Instead, we asked participants to prioritise a series of questions relating to growth, drawing attention to the important and more intangible questions in our lives; the ones that sit in the back of our minds and emerge when we have time to pause and reflect. In 2015, we started capturing the responses to these questions from our workshops with executives, owners and members of family enterprise. Below are the ten questions that were prioritised most as of June 2020.

The X-axis represents the number of times a particular question was selected as a top priority.

In contrast, the questions given lowest priority were focussed around traditional ideas of wealth. Am I providing for my family? How do I manage the resources I have at my disposal?

We have all experienced some degree of increased isolation in recent months. Restrictions on our social movements have brought the opportunity to slow down and consider the bigger questions. Subsequently, we’ve noticed our coaching conversations with clients have taken a greater focus on family, what is truly important and whether we are spending enough time on what really matters most. Values take a central position in making the right decisions in these unprecedented times.



A framework for growth

Our Growth Framework was designed to structure our conversations around these important questions to move us forward. It puts values where they belong, at the heart of reflection, planning and decision-making around three themes: purpose, wellbeing and connection.


Finding purpose starts with discovering a strong sense of Self – your personal identity. This requires self-awareness and honest reflection on your strengths, limitations and motivations. It’s understanding the triggers and experiences that derail us. It’s the process of asking, ‘What does fulfilment look like for me?’ ‘What’s my next challenge?’ Then charting a personal journey, from where you are to where you want to be.

Putting talents and passions to use can create fulfilment. Work is the obvious mechanism but there are different paths to seeking purpose and engagement. Ultimately, we all want to find our place, our role within the group. Within a family office, an individual might gravitate towards philanthropy, while another may find learning about the markets leads to a passion for investing.

Some individuals are the emotional glue that stitches the family together and others are adept at framing important conversations. Like the well-worn sports team analogy, it’s about defining a common purpose and understanding how each individual within the group can contribute, finding meaning in their own unique way.


Developing our physical and mental health builds sustained vitality and mindful awareness. Wellbeing is about having positive emotions, finding joy and gratitude. It is about building grit and resilience. We want people to stop and truly reflect on questions like, ‘Am I well? Is my family well?’

We include financial health within the frame of wellbeing. When we think about wealth, it is not a question of quantity, but confidence in one’s self. ‘Am I a confident steward of the resources that have been bestowed upon me? Am I making well-informed decisions?’ This frame encourages the long-term view that we’re all custodians capable of sustaining resources for future generations. And not just our own assets, but consideration of the resources in our communities and the planet.

Internal strength and the ability to deal with uncertainty are of high value right now. When we talk about wellbeing, do we have the mental and emotional strength to bounce back? And for those times that we don’t, do we have connections we can count on for support?


We all need the support of close, authentic, quality relationships. The bonds we have with our families, friends, colleagues – whoever our tribe might consist of – help sustain us. During the COVID crisis where cities and whole countries were sheltering in place, we were reminded just how essential our families and our local communities were to us. Those who were at most risk lived alone, with no access to their loved ones or neighbours.

Community can provide a mechanism to contribute to something greater than ourselves. We can collaborate with others to make a difference in the world. Community creates opportunities to contribute to a noble purpose. This closes the circle back to our own sense of self and our ability to contribute to something in which we find meaning.

When we think about Jimmy, his role in the community is a huge part of his sense of self. His personal identity goes way beyond just being a cafe owner. He’s a beacon of the community; someone who sets a tone of positivity and willingly supports local residents and other businesses in times of need.


At the centre of these three areas of growth are our values. Values form the principles and beliefs that guide our decisions and actions. As we discuss values, we find that people consistently search for ‘higher order’ values such as self-enhancement, openness to change, conservation and self-transcendence 1.

Families we work with often start by talking about long-term financial security. But over time, the conversation shifts to deeper questions. ‘Will my children find their purpose in life? Will they become well-adjusted and financially independent individuals? How can we teach the next generation to give back and contribute to something greater?’

Similarly, in our conversations with leaders we might start a coaching discussion focusing on a new role or a promotion. As we explore this next challenge, bigger questions take over. ‘What do I want to be known for? Am I setting an example that inspires and challenges others? How can I be of service?’



An opportunity to grow

Through the COVID experience, a focus on purpose, wellbeing and connection has only intensified.

Millions of workers are currently furloughed. There may not be an immediate financial risk for these people, but for those whose personal identity is closely tied to the work they do, there is a real gap of purpose. The pandemic has given many people opportunity to pause and reflect. ‘Am I living a life fulfilled?’ How can I make a difference?’

Our wellbeing is at the centre of the crisis and has dominated the decision-making process by governments, businesses, families and individuals. What started as a health crisis has quickly turned into a financial crisis. Australia is in recession for the first time in twenty-nine years, with 1.4 million households in mortgage stress and 100,000 at risk of default on their loans. The long-term effect of this financial crisis back onto our physical and mental health remains to be seen.

The seismic boom of 200 million Zoom subscribers comes from our new working habits and fundamental craving for connection with friends and family. More and more people have connected with their neighbours, some for the first time. We are watching a shift happen in real-time as businesses move into a more digital and remote way of working. And what will the experience be like for workers in various sectors as restrictions ease? Back to less time at home, more time commuting? Will things ever be the same again? We’ve been forced apart, but are we more connected than ever?

Every day we witness the positive impact that focusing on wellbeing, connection and purpose has on the lives of our clients.

We regularly talk with a family patriarch who has thrived in isolation because he has structured his daily routine around fitness, conversations with family and friends and his work. He guided his family through the crisis by sticking to the values they had identified together, including a strong focus on philanthropy. He believes these values are only more critical in these uncertain times. ‘If everyone just looks out for themselves in times like these, things will only get worse. We’ve got to stay connected, stay true and stay the course.’

We mentor members of the rising generation, several of whom have struggled to find work but have found energy and vibrancy through a focus on their health. They have found purpose by volunteering their time and looking out for more vulnerable members of their families and communities. One young couple have broken through in achieving the goal of living within their means. They achieved this by working together, prioritising what was important to them and forming a connection around home and food.

During the COVID lockdown we started holding family council meetings over video conference. These are shorter but more frequent than our usual meetings, allowing families to maintain connection and momentum around their goals and collective purpose. The dependency on digital platforms has challenged the assumption that genuine connection can only come from being together in one place. At the same time less frequent and more quality gatherings in person have a much higher value where they were once taken for granted.


We’ll close by noting that while the pandemic has caused immeasurable global pain, seeing these small silver linings with our clients and the wider community has provided some light through the darkness

The values of leaders often shine brightest in times of crisis. The leadership Jimmy and his cafe showed through the lockdown has certainly inspired our family to foster a stronger and more active connection with our local community.

How about you? Have your experiences and observations in recent months revealed anything about what purpose, wellbeing and connection mean for you and your family? Are you living by your values? If not, why not?

Now more than ever is the perfect time to pause, reflect, and act on your values.