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How to step down but not out

Unleash the confidence and energy of the next generation when the time is right for you and the farm.

“Timing is everything” applies to more than we might think – steak on the grill, stocks and bonds and letting go of the reins in a family business.

If we’re lucky, we recognize when reducing the daily stress of running a farm starts to sound good. For many, the preferred plan of action is a gradual relinquishing of responsibilities rather than full retirement. Whether you go cold turkey or ease out gradually, you’ll need a plan.

Mark Voeller, Linda Fairburn, and Wayne Thompson point out in their book Exit Right that “while many family business leaders can gauge their place in their life cycle accurately, they must also be aware of how stepping back, but not down will affect the rest of the family.”

In their view, often the business leader waits too long to begin to relinquish control when energy levels start declining and decisions become more difficult to make. Elaine Froese, certified life coach, and columnist, based in Boissevain, Man., says the need to control sometimes gets in the way.

“Rivalry with the next generation can slow down the easing-out process. You might be thinking, ‘What if I turn the farm over to my son and he does better than I did?’ If you get into that kind of downward-spiral thinking, letting go becomes a whole lot more difficult.”

It takes maturity and insight into yourself and your successors to know when the business needs a whole lot more energy from the next generation. “Transitioning out of the business usually takes two to three years,” says Froese. “Make a plan. Put markers in place. On this date, I will transfer my shares. On this date, my son or whoever will start delivering the grain to the elevator.”

Voeller, Fairburn, and Thompson said: “If waiting until old age or ill health becomes your operational reality, you may find that you don’t have the steam to effectively play your role or that the hand-over has come too late for both the business and the next generation.”

Experts say that at about age 60, most people start considering what retirement plans will look like. Not addressing this head-on creates anxiety in the business and in the family.

“Generally speaking, it is better to choose your successor(s) sooner rather than later because effective leadership transitions don’t happen overnight – typically, they take from five years or more,” says Froese.

It takes this long because adjustments are required that can trigger new ways of managing the farm business. Voeller, Fairburn, and Thompson say these need to be considered “because you want the development of your successor to coincide with the readiness of the business for new leadership and with your readiness to step down, but not necessarily out.”

It’s sometimes easier to give up ownership than management control. However, experts agree that not giving up some management control “can be an enormous impediment to a smooth leadership transition. If you don’t marry authority to increasing responsibility, you risk demoralizing your successor and confusing everyone else,” they say.

Stepping aside but not out requires clarity every step of the way. Create a timetable so those working with you know what to expect. Voeller, Fairburn, and Thompson say: “Make sure everyone is clear about your future role, responsibility and authority – including you. Step aside completely only when you are ready to stay aside.”

Froese adds important insight: “Fear of aging can keep people in leadership roles longer than is good for them or the business. Another reason is that they have nothing to look forward to. You can’t transition into something if you don’t have something to go to.”

Exit Right points out that newly retired people sometimes get bored with their new position in life and start “hanging around the business, often giving orders and otherwise helping out.” This creates resentment and confusion that, in worst-case scenarios, lead to the newly charged successors backing out of the business. The advice: “Write out your new role and stick to it. You’ll spare your family and the employees some difficult situations.”

You may want to keep your hand in combining or meeting with chemical reps. You may want to ride fence lines or do the shop work. Figure out what you’d like to do, name those responsibilities formally, communicate them and follow through.

Voeller, Fairburn and Thompson offer this analogy: “Being in business is like being in a canoe. Why? Because there are two times when you can really get into trouble: getting in and getting out.”

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This article was originally published by Bayer CropScience in Farm Forum magazine. Posted with permission

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60 minutes

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“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
“Elaine helped me allocate $1 Million of assets the night I listened to her. Elaine’s presentation brings value to the use of my services in my office.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
“I recently joined in and listened to your Healthy Farmer Agriwebinar for FMC. I truly enjoyed hearing your perspective and even went and grabbed my Mom, away from her work, to come and listen in on some of your main points as well! One area that really stood out for me, both personally with our own succession plans and with our clients, was your discussion involving "Instant Influence" and how ready are you to change? I loved this concept!”
Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
“Helped me develop my framework to start having constructive and meaningful conversations around the farm.”
Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
“Some great lessons, Elaine! You continue to do some remarkable and potentially life-changing work.”
James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
“Elaine gives me excellent tools that help me work with my clients!”
Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

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