Many farm families are feeling a deep sense of guilt knowing they should be having business meetings, but they just don’t seem to get around to it. A key factor is understanding why you need to have farm family meetings. A few strong reasons include:
- Family council to explore how the family operates
- Succession planning
- Estate planning: wills, inheritance, fairness issues, legacy plans
- Advisers and suppliers meetings
Another key factor is understanding who should be talking at the different business meetings. Daugther-in-laws (DILs) are typically silent when they want to avoid conflict, and don’t feel their voice counts. Son-in-laws (SILs) may be the joint successors and may see the meeting process differently because their “fresh eyes” come from a different family style of communication. The other mouths you should consider at meetings are the common partners of your farming children. Canadian law marks them as “married” if they have lived together long enough. I treat partners and the in-laws as key players in the communication dynamic and welcome them to voice their opinions at the meeting…with civility.
Let’s take a closer look at four types of important farm family meetings and explore who should be involved and have a voice.
Family Council and Family Operations
This meeting includes all family members whether they farm with you or not. I know a family that meets annually with the farming and non-farm children to talk about the family vision and how the farm is doing. The non-farm kids use this as a chance to encourage the parents to let go of control and applaud the efforts of the farming siblings. Go to Farm Centre to order a copy of “Managing the Multi-Generational Farm” which is a great tool for distinguishing between a family council and a farm business meeting. It also helps for developing your family code of conduct.
At a succession meeting, the key players are the founders, successors, and their spouses or partners. The non-farm heirs don’t need to be part of the initial succession planning meetings, but it is a good idea to include them in the communication loop as agreements are being reached. There seems to be a strong sense of entitlement in the country by non-farm heirs who believe they have a right to quota, cows, and land! As a farm communication succession coach, I typically have conversations with all the children and include them in the initial key family meeting, so that they have a clear understanding of their parent’s intentions. Many folks can live with tough decisions when they clearly understand the “why” behind the decision.
Succession planning is a long process. One dairy family has the succession meeting monthly, which is different than the monthly operational meeting. Agenda items are collected on a white board in the barn office, and the administration office farm family member keeps track of hot issues and sends minutes of the meetings to all participants.
All family members need to have a voice in the estate planning meeting, as this is where the issue of fairness and inheritance expectations can be voiced. Ultimately, the founders decide what they want for their estate plan, yet they will have a keen sense of what their children feel if the meeting gives everyone a voice. As a coach, I receive the minutes of the meetings to track the progress of the decision making and keep all parties accountable to act.
Advisors and Suppliers Meeting
Another important meeting for grooming your successors is to include them in the meetings with your AG lenders, accountants, and lawyers. Suppliers also appreciate developing a relationship with the next generation. I typically don’t meet with the equipment dealers, but when we are spending six figures on new iron, I appreciate an informal update and expense justification from my spouse. It is a sign of respect for my partnership in the marriage and the farm business.
Decide why you need to meet and do it regularly with great openness and a spirit of curiosity to find out what others are thinking and feeling, without judgment. I tend to be more inclusive of all family members, because I strongly feel that we all have communication filters, and it is easier for everyone to hear the message firsthand than have it translated later by a biased farming spouse.