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Succession planning: Handy tips for ongoing communication

In our last succession supplement, Heather Wildman, family facilitator and managing director at Saviours Associates, gave tips on starting the often tricky conversation with family members. Here she offers advice on how to keep communicating.

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Heather Wildman
Heather Wildman
Succession planning: Handy tips for ongoing communication

Succession planning is not a one-off conversation – it is a lifelong process of ongoing conversations as family members’ circumstances, aspirations and wishes change.

Listening, understanding each others’ perspectives, and having regular family meetings are all key.

 

Understand each other

 

Family members will likely have different views, particularly between generations.

Different generations may have differing work ethics, ways of managing, views on quality, priorities which effect how and when they show up for work, lifestyle expectations, education and experiences.

It is also important to understand how you feel.

Emotion plays a huge part in our decision-making and in our action or in-action.

It is helpful to name your feelings and identify what they relate to.

For example, you might be excited about opportunities onfarm, anxious about money or worried about family disputes.


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Hold ‘honesty meetings’
Hold ‘honesty meetings’

Have regular family meetings where you all get together and are open and honest about your feelings and needs around succession.

Hold these at least once-a-year, so plans can change as life does.

Often, people have never had the chance to speak-up.

So when asked what they want they perhaps do not know.

If that is the case, try asking what they do not want as a good place to start.

Every family is different, so do what works best for you at the time.

For example, I work with a family that goes away between Christmas and New Year to discuss their plans.

Another family holds its meetings while having a big walk.

Before the meeting, everyone should think about their goals over the coming years – personal, business, family and the whole picture.

 

As a family, ask; where is the business currently? Where do you want it to be? What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy?

What if you cannot get someone to talk?

Particularly with older family members, sometimes it is about playing the long game and sowing the seeds of a conversation.


Try to find the niche of what they want to talk about and a way to a common dream.

For example, ask them what has been their greatest achievement on-farm and if there is anything they wish they had done differently.

Use this to gently talk about what you would like to do differently as the next generation.

Communicate constructively

 

No-one knows how to push your buttons like your family does.

It is therefore key to try and communicate in a way which is business-like and professional during meetings.

Ensure you have an agenda, with clear topic titles and time scheduled for each.

Delegate a chairperson, or invite a third party in if things are difficult.

Consider holding it away from the farm.

Record minutes and circulate these.

Agree actions, deadlines and who is responsible for getting them done.

Understand that listening is as much a part of communication as talking.

Remove the emotion from your words, by taking the ‘I’ and ‘you’ out, so it is less personal.

Always remain respectful, do not interrupt, or pull faces and huff and puff when someone else is speaking.

Allow everyone a turn to talk, and, finally, agree what your common mission is, and your values going forward.

It helps to each consider before the meeting:

  • Business goals: What do you want to achieve/build in your business/career/legacy?
  • Personal goals: Where would you like to be in terms of happiness, health lifestyle, home, wealth, etc.?
  • The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your current business and personal life.
  • What is your current financial situation? (Mortgage, loans, credit cards, overdrafts, debt, rent, salary, contracts, properties/land, life insurance, shares, savings, pensions, diversifications).
  • Have you got a Plan B? What are your options?
  • What do you want to achieve in the next meeting?

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