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!