Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Posts tagged ‘Farm succession’

Farm succession – getting started

When to start the succession planning process?

I believe right now is a good time! If we think about it as part of the business strategic planning process and integrate it into our thinking it’s becomes an important part of ensuring business continuity.

Most members of family farms have the common goal that the farm should stay in the family. This is a great way to get the discussion started; there are plenty of examples of farms that have not remained in the family because the discussion never happened.

Certainly when someone is entering or exiting the business is an essential time to meet and discuss the effect of any changes.

Too often the discussion only starts when there is a family crisis, someone is unhappy, leaving the business or causing waves. Sometimes this is too late. However, as sensible as the process might seem, sitting around the table to discuss Wills, land transfers, retirements and pay outs understandably causes fear and emotion.

Getting everyone to the table at the same time can be difficult. Starting the process can be challenging and different generations will be ready at different times. For the older generation it wasn’t common practice for them when they entered farming. Assumptions made and many of them had to wait for the previous generation to exit,or even die, to take over the farming business. They often didn’t know what was in the Will until it was read.

This generation had to trust their parents to look after them and may expect the younger generation to do the same.

In contrast the younger generation are looking at farming differently – they have been encouraged to see it as a business which like any other small business should have a plan. They are looking for security for their future, to know what will happen and when.

Expectations are different and the generations need to be considerate of each others needs. Stephen Covey’s “Seek first to understand and then to be understood” is important for succession planning. Ask questions and really listen to the answers, ask more questions. Do your best to encourage open and honest communication.

Unfortunately there is not one forumla, every family is different with different personalities and needs.

A few tips for getting people to the table

  • demystify the process as much as possible, explain carefully what’s involved and what would be expected of people.
  • remind family members of the big picture goal and the need to ensure everyone is looked after while maintaining the business (if that’s the goal)
  • recognise the fear and emotion attached to succession planning and deal with this as it arises. Acknowledge the emotions and address them, don’t sweep them under the carpet or respond inappropriately.
  • hold the meeting away from the family home. Treating it like a business meeting in a neutral environment often improves behaviour and ensures the meeting is taken seriously. It can also stop us from retreating to childhood behaviours and habits.

And  always remember; we all do the best we can with the resources we have available to us!

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Farm succession facilitation for business continuity

Facilitation of farm succession is something I am very passionate about. Done well it keeps families together and farms in business, done badly, or not at  all, family support systems can be destoyed and so can businesses. My passion is driven from my own personal experience growing up on a family farm and marrying into a family farm, one family handled succession well and the other very badly.

These personal experience led me to completing Farm Family facilitation training with Lyn Sykes from Dubbo, ToP Facilitation training, Coaching training and an MBA so I could assist farming families with succession planning in a constructive way.

Accountants, lawyers and financial planners all play important roles in the succession process and often the most overlooked role is that of the facilitator. The facilitator will ensure the tough questions and the emotions are dealt with – they aim to assist the family achieve outcomes with shared understanding and common agreement.

Getting the whole family together is key to the shared understanding ….and I mean the “whole” family. The most successful meetings we have facilitated have included everyone involved in the farming business, this includes the siblings and their partners. The meeting provides an opportunity for everyone to put forward their views and perceived role in the future of the farm as well as their personal goals.

The other big misconception is that succession planning is about Will’s… this is only one part of the discussion. Succession planning is more accurately described as strategic planning or planning for business continuity. It includes discussions about business mentoring, business transition, roles and responsibilities, expectations and goals, retirement plans, plans for business growth, housing and more.

I’m not saying it is an easy process. Many families have never sat around the table and shared their hopes, goals and dreams for the future and at first it can be uncomfortable. After five years of working with families in South Australia I am still passionate about doing whatever can be done to keep families and farm together.

I would love to hear your comments…

What is your most pressing question about succession planning on farms?

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