How to start the succession planning conversation

(Source: Canola Digest October 2020)

Farm families are stuck when it comes to getting folks to the kitchen table to talk about timelines for transition of labour, management and ownership of the farm. As a farm family coach over the past 8 months of the Great Pause, many young farmers have reached out looking for tips to get their parents to talk about what the future holds for generation one and generation two.

Understand that procrastination and conflict avoidance are the root of the issue for farm families being stuck.

  1. Act. Decide that you are no longer avoiding the tough conversations. Are you willing to be the driver to call the family together to meet? The first step is to decide that you will no longer accept silence from your parents or siblings. Listen to Dr. Henry Cloud’s audio book on Boundaries, and his book Necessary Endings. Both are powerful motivators.
  2. Think. Talk to yourself first about what you really want. Then check out the same issues with your spouse. If parents are not in agreement as to what they each want for future roles on the farm, then you will have to work hard to negotiate a more workable vision for generation one. Be clear about your intent, “why” this is so important for you to get talking and discovering your future now. Say…”My intention is….”
  3. Ask more powerful questions to kick-start the conversation.” Do you remember what it felt like when you first owned land? I am curious if we could sit down and explore ideas on how I can get some equity before April 2021 on this farm. I want to be more than an employee.” Dates are targets to aim for; certainty of agreements and timelines is what you really want.
  4. Document. Covid has been a reality check for the farmer who said “Elaine if I get sick and die, the farm will be in chaos.” Get a will, an enduring power of attorney, and guardians for your children. Make sure your executor is fully informed. As you go through the succession planning journey you will change the estate plan (your will), but get a will now! Lawyers can work with you virtually, and witnesses can sign digitally.
  5. Be curious. Stop telling yourself that it’s “disrespectful to your parents” or greedy to ask for what you need for your young family. Come from a position of “I am curious Dad, how do you want your role to change on this farm as you age. I am seeking a way to build my own equity. What are you needing?”
  6. Face fears. Address the bull in the middle of the room, what I call the undiscussabull. Parents are afraid of failure, loss of wealth, conflict with the non-farm heirs, and loss of identity or purpose as they age. Love does not read minds, so ask gently and graciously “What is hard for you to talk about ? I am hear to listen and understand.” Watch “Finding Fairness in Farm Transition“ on my YouTube channel as a great discussion starter. Download the “Key Challenges” part of the Farm Family Toolkit as a checklist
  7. Collect data. Know what you need for family living, and where your income streams are coming from. Have financial transparency between the generations. Share the amount of debt you are willing to service or transfer to the next generation. Do understand how much debt you are willing to sleep with, and what you are willing to buy out. Some assets will be gifted, but young farmers need to be clear about how much debt they can service. Have your accountant, lender or farm business advisor confirm the viability of the operation, knowing cash flow, and the number of families the farm can support.
  8. Prepare your ideal business plan for the farm. What is your vision? On our farm Generation 1 wants to slow down but still be active in the decision making process, and Gen 2 wants to build more efficient systems.
  9. Explore what if? What if we block time once a month for 2 hours to talk about our succession journey? Stress the importance and benefits to all generations. Dr. Kohl’s research showed that farms with regular meetings were 21% more profitable.
  10. Meet. If the thought of meeting scares you, then hire a 3rd party facilitator to prepare each person for the meeting. In 2020 these meetings are done on zoom. Advisors have seen many creative solutions, they can keep the conversation safe and respectful
  11. Buy a flipchart, and find a stuffie toy. You need a visual spot to land ideas and process thoughts. The toy is your talking stick for folks to speak at the meeting without interruption. As you record notes on the flipchart use smartphones to capture the pages when the meeting ends, and you have action steps recorded for the next meeting. Simple yes. Life-changing. Yes!
  12. Explore residence options. Housing is a big source of conflict. Promises are made to switch houses, then things change or a sibling comes to live close to generation one. Be really clear that you understand the timelines and expectations for the residence needs of all generations. If mom wants to move and dad wants to stay put things will be stuck for a long time.
  13. Copy success. Conflict resolution is a business risk management strategy. Share the stories of good transitions knowing you are not alone in your current struggle, but the hard work is worth the reward of a workable succession plan to create certainty for everyone’s future.
  14. Build your binder. Or use Google documents to organize the many plans you need to talk about: lifestyle income, legal, accounting, meeting action plans, business plans, coaching communication, estate, loans, etc. I have created a “Life” binder with passwords info, and Maggie Van Camp’s Because I love you List. The binder is a great place to jot down your dreams, thoughts, and frustrations as you create solutions for the life you’ve always wanted on your farm. Email me for binder tabs, and the Because I love U list.

Income streams, housing, fairness to non-farm heirs.

Getting insight on those 3 big questions will keep your succession planning going. Remember, it is a journey, and I am here to help. Talking is the work.

If you want help navigating these tough conversations and circumstances, we should talk. Click here to learn more about my farm family coaching services.

Did you learn a lot from this post on how to start the succession planning conversation? You might want to check these articles out too:

Which Shade of Control is Blocking Your Farm Transition?
Farm Transition Planning: 19 Ways to Change Your Mindset
Developing the Right Mindset for a Successful Farm Transition

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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.”
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“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
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Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
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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.”
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Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
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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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