Someone must make the first move when it comes to farm transition planning. According to Liz Griffith, a human resource consultant for Encore Consultants, the process would ideally be initiated by the senior generation. However, if that doesn’t happen, she encouraged the younger generation to start the conversation and offered some advice while speaking at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) Business Conference held last week.
"Approach your parents or grandparents, but in a nonconfrontational way,” Griffith said. Let them know you’d like to discuss your future and where you fit into the business. Then, see if you get permission to move the conversation forward. If not, Griffith encouraged trying to bring it up again in a few months, or in a different way, always staying calm and focused on your place in the business. If you keep meeting roadblocks, consider bringing in help from outside advisers.
Griffith reminded the younger generation that starting a business takes a lot of energy, but so does moving on from one, so be sensitive to other family members’ feelings. Transferring a farm’s legacy is not just about the physical assets. It also includes the skills, values, reputation, and relationships built over years of hard work, she shared.
The initial conversations
Some groundwork must be laid before a transition plan can be written. Griffith encouraged farm families to have “transition talks” with all involved family members. This includes spouses and siblings that are not currently on the farm, as they may be interested in getting involved if they can see a future for themselves there.
“Start slow. Nothing gets done in one meeting,” Griffith said, noting that this process can take months or even years for some farms. These initial conversations carry great value, though. “Transition talks will help the senior generation make an effective plan to continue the legacy,” she shared.
First, she encouraged farm families to talk about their values, as these serve as a guideline for how the business will be operated and how decisions will be made. “Values change from generation to generation,” she noted.
Next, discuss each person’s vision. Where does everyone see the business in five or 10 years?
Then, determine who wants to be part of the business and what their roles and responsibilities will be. Create a plan so that people get the training they need to be successful before the transition plan goes into effect.
And again, Griffith said to not be afraid to bring in consultants or mediators to help mediate those talks if it becomes difficult.
For successful family meetings, Griffith said everyone must remain respectful and “show up as adults.” Each person in the room should be able to talk and be heard.
Create a plan for the meetings with agenda items that help guide what will be talked about. It is important to keep the family’s eye on the prize, which is to maintain the family business and legacy. “Stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish,” she said.
“It’s time to crack that door,” she concluded. “Take those small steps for effective conversations that are going to get the ball rolling toward a positive transition plan.