Dick Wittman, a long-time farm management consultant and the farmer has transitioned from being the CEO of a 22,000 acre Idaho farm to being his daughter’s mentor coach. His session at Ag Excellence’s 2021 conference was “ How to get out of the way without going away.” Google the session and invest 90 minutes towards having better transition success on your farm.
We are all in transition.
Wittman outlined how he came back in 1980 and started putting organizational structure to his farm business with cousins, uncles, and other employees. Our farm currently is keen to learn from Wittman as our new CEO is the next generation, and my husband who has put in 43 crops is navigating being the mentor coach.
Wittman believes that every transition can strengthen the business when they are following a clear process. The Mission, Vision, and Core Values when put into writing can be the place for an alignment of expectations and a chance to operate on the principle of merit, versus entitlement. To be clear, Wittman posts the mission, vision, and core values statement in his farm shop and the farm office where his daughter is now 4th generation and the CEO.
Wittman has transitioned to being the chair of the board and will likely move further out to a reorganization and buyout in the future. He believes in the culture of a professionally managed farm business with policies, clearly formalized roles, and a commitment to a living governance structure. This includes written job descriptions, standard operating policies, a culture of communication, and a transparent process for evaluating performance.
I suspect that setting compensation, family business investment and withdrawal policies and buyout understanding may be hot topics on your transition agenda. Wittman has just updated his extremely practical management binder, which is now available online as a digital tool, go to www.wittmanconsulting.com and invest today. I have used his binder of tools for years to give coaching clients practical resources to get better communication and clarity as they upgrade their management skills.
Do this now, before you need the policies and procedures. Wittman suggests that many farms, especially with HR policies, need to get into alignment. With clear roles, you can have better accountability and opportunities to achieve excellence.
Today our farms are multi-million-dollar businesses with some off-farm investment possibly, and two different time cycles, the transition of management, and the transition of ownership.
So how does dad and mom get out of the way without going away?
Learn to embrace a meaningful role without micro-managing.
- add an owner board to your jargon
- extend your thinking to a “career Path” mindset, you are no longer the CEO, you are now the mentor coach, and not dead.
- adopt a co-leader management model with clear, separate roles. Although Dick Wittman’s daughter is the CEO, no one wanted the logging operation duties, so Dick has retained this as something he loves to do.
- A board of directors is the governing council which sets policy, management direction, financial oversight, hiring, evaluation, and compensation with regularly scheduled meetings.
As David Brooks author of The Second Mountain says, “Teach what excellence looks like day by day.”
This month is a good time to look at your strategic planning process for transition. Who is labour? Who is management? Who is ownership of your farm? There needs to be total transparency of finances, meaning all investors in the farm share their personal balance sheets.
- What roles will transition and when?
- What are the key job duties and skillsets needed as the founders “step away”?
- Whom do we groom to assume these roles? Wittman says that “when you announce you are retiring you don’t get to pick you succeeds you at our farm!”
- Take time, more than 12 months to work through the CEO succession.
- Use personality style profiles and leadership profile tools to really understand the skill sets of the folks you are hiring.
- Millennials want facilitators, not bosses, so perhaps the CEO’s style to focus on people, resources, info and technology, and teamwork are greatly needed at your farm to attract new labour.
When my husband goes out to the yard he might be asking, “How can I be the most help today? “The employees on our team should not be thinking, “Wait, isn’t he retired ?” “He cannot just let go can he?” “There he goes being the boss again!” “I just wish he’d let us do our own job!” Wittman uses a photo with all these captions to drive home the point, “How are you perceived?”
Wittman says “Work hard to not be a micro-manager as you let go of your CEO role and transition to mentor.”
- don’t be impatient with the successor’s approach and their timetables. I like to say, “Different is not wrong, it is just different.”
- try not to push your way of logistics (think harvest) and planning. Things may get done in a different way and each leader needs to learn how to be proactive.
- give folks latitude to make their own plans on their timetable.
- trust and respect the successors, remember the trust your parents provided you.
- have clearly defined roles. Click here to ask for job descriptions.
- give difficult feedback when boundaries have been over-stepped
- block time for quality mentoring and invite the ASK for mentorship from your successor
- scheduled evaluation time to assess how the transition process is working and adjust behaviours
- find peer groups and business coaches to help you navigate your new role as a mentor coach.
- be intentional about building your culture of accountability. Do good work and be accountable to one another, all ways.
- let your new team perform and do the farm business their own way
- ask permission to make advisements on process improvement
- communication is everything. What are you personally doing to be a better communicator?
- if boundaries are crossed, make repair in a professional manner
- Grace for all. Extend grace to each generation who likely has some fear of failure.
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