February 21, 2017, is a HUGE day for me. I feel like an expectant mother, (even at age 60!). February 21st marks the launch of our baby, the online course Get Farm Transition Unstuck. Why have I spent hundreds of hours with my co-writer Dr. Megan Mckenzie to create practical tools? Because young farmers frequently ask me: “Elaine, how do we get the conversation about changes on the farm started?” There is a longing look in their eyes, sometimes tears as they seek out help to talk to their parents about key issues the farm team knows they need to address. Let’s look at how we can help by starting with some tips on how to get those tough and tender transition conversations started.
9 Tips on How to Start Successful Transition Conversations
1. Show Up as Adults
You are young but skilled. Know that your parents are having sleepless nights rolling over scenarios in their heads that they just can’t sort out. It is a joy for me as a coach to work with farm teams who behave well as responsible adults. They choose to attack the issues, not the person delivering the ideas for change.
2. Understand That Transition Is a Journey
Like putting a large puzzle together with many pieces, it takes time. Patience is a virtue here. If you get ticked at your slow internet connection, you are likely not happy with the pace of change on your farm either. There are many vital plans to address; lifestyle, income streams, debt servicing, farm business viability, fairness to non-farm heirs, etc. Don’t let the anxiety of not knowing the plan or your sense of being overwhelmed keep you stuck. How is your attitude about doing the work required to meet with several different kinds of professionals? Are you willing to drive the process? Are you gracious and positive?
3. Spend Some Quiet Time with Yourself
Yes, in silence, thinking. Reflect deeply on what you really want to accomplish with your life, and with your conversations. What is your intent? If you intend to be a bully, be manipulative, be dramatic or threatening, the conversations for change are not going to work out well. When you get clear about your expectations, then you are ready to start communicating them to your spouse and your farm team. Text to 1-855-969-5300 and include “WHATIWANT” in the message line to receive a tool to help you do some hardcore reflecting.
4. Engage Your Spouse/Partner to See What They Want
Make sure you listen and paraphrase back to them what you think you heard them say. Many farm founders are avoiding the transition conversation because as a couple they are not agreed on what they can live with together. Mom and Dad may be fighting or tense with goals that just don’t align for the same purpose. For instance, Dad is happy to “keep being the hired man (employee)” but Mom is bent on traveling lots and leaving the main yard’s action. She wants a quieter pace, and Dad is energized to keep showing up at the shop at 8. The incidence of “gray” divorce is increasing. Divorce will really wreck havoc, so pay attention to goals and dreams that are being squished.
5. Brush Up on Your Conflict Resolution Skills
Embrace courageous conversations as a business risk management tool. You can find my webinars on “Better Family Fights” here. Use eye contact. Ask permission with the other person to make sure it is a good time to talk. Write out your key points on paper or notes on your phone if you think you need a script to stay on track. Make requests. Say “may I make a request, I have some important things to discuss, and I was wondering if Tuesday after lunch is a good time for you?” Share your intent, your big “why” this is so important for you to get out in the open.
6. Know That You Are Not Alone
Over 120,000 farms need to transition in Canada. The average age of a farmer in Canada is 54. I know a lot who are 66, 75, and 83 who are still avoiding starting the conversation about changes in management and ownership. I call this the tsunami of agriculture. Now that you know that you are not the only one on the prairies use this insight to bolster your courage and resolve to start asking the rest of your farm team for the changes you and your family need. You are getting older every day. At age 40 you will no longer qualify for young farmer programs and loan rebates. At age 40 you will also feel lots of resentment if you have not had a plan or access path to building some of your own equity.
7. Visit Your Lender of Choice
Before you start talking about opportunities for equity or ownership you have to be comfortable with debt and have the ability to service it. This is why I send young farmers to FCC to see what their current net worth is, and how much debt they can service. It gives you data to talk to your parents about the reality of how much debt you are able to manage. It also shines a light on your living costs which are way more than $30,000 per year. Do you know what you need to keep the family living equation happy?
8. Build Your Tribe of Support
This might be other young farmers who have succeeded with their transition experience. They can be a huge emotional support to you. You can also read every blog and book that I have written to encourage you and give you practical skills to ask for what you and your family needs now.
9. Use Great Expertise
Marty Seymour of FCC suggested to me that perhaps the younger generation is not speaking out due to a sense of respect for their parents. This could be partly true as I see many well-educated thirty-something-year-old skilled young farmers who are super frustrated that their dreams are not turning into profitably executed goals. If this is you, consider a facilitator or coach for the process. Visit cafanet.com to see who is available in your province. I also encourage you to sign up for “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” to get all the tools you need to prepare for a successful farm transition.
You can do this. Get going now.