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10 Top Tips for Initiating the Succession Planning Conversation

Succession planning in farming businesses often feels like navigating a field littered with landmines. Concerns about stepping on toes or unsettling the family balance can make it tempting to keep pushing the conversation down the road. However, delaying the dialogue only amplifies the challenges, especially when unexpected events force the issue. The goal may not always be to split assets equally but to do so fairly, considering the contributions and involvement of each member. And remember, succession affects not just family members but also dedicated staff, whose skills and knowledge are invaluable. Here are ten tips to help you start this vital process effectively:

 1. Acknowledge the Elephant on the Farm
Begin by recognising the sensitivity and importance of succession planning. A simple acknowledgement from all generations towards each other can lower defences and open a pathway for constructive dialogue.

2. Start Early
The best time to discuss succession planning was yesterday. The next best time is today. Early conversations allow for more options and smoother transitions.  Don’t wait until illness or losing a family member forces the conversation to start.

3. Educate on the Importance
Many might not understand the significance of early succession planning. Share knowledge about the risks of delaying and the benefits of proactive planning, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

4. Involve Everyone in the Conversation
Include all stakeholders in the discussions (not just the immediate family), at the appropriate time. Employees who have been integral to the farm’s operation should also have a voice, as their futures are intertwined with the farm’s future.

5. Use Neutral Ground
Hold meetings in a neutral location if possible where everyone feels comfortable and equal. This can help reduce the emotional charge of the conversation.

6. Employ a Professional
Often, a neutral third party, like a professional facilitator, can help navigate the conversation more smoothly, ensuring all voices are heard and considered.  You will also need to involve other professionals such as accountants, solicitors and specialist tax advisors.

7. Focus on Fairness, Not Equality
Emphasise that decisions will aim for what’s fair, and may consider individual contributions and involvement in the farm, rather than simply an equal split of assets, which might not always make sense.

8. Consider Non-Family Succession
Succession planning isn’t just about passing the torch within the family. It also involves identifying and developing the skills of non-family members who can carry on the farm’s legacy.

9. Develop a Skills and Knowledge Transfer Plan
Highlight the importance of transferring skills and knowledge long before retirement looms. Many farmers prefer not to consider “retirement” at all but as time goes on, it’s essential to identify critical roles and create a plan to develop those skills in the next generation or new staff members.

10. Create an Open-Ended Dialogue
Make it clear that the first conversation is just the beginning. Succession planning is an ongoing process that will evolve over time. Encourage regular check-ins to adjust plans as circumstances change.

Succession planning doesn’t have to be a battle or a source of family unrest. With the right approach, supported by a skilled facilitator, it can be a strategic process that secures the future of the farm and fosters a stronger, more united family and team. Remember, the goal is to ensure the longevity and success of the farming business for generations to come, not just to distribute assets. Starting the conversation now can help navigate the complexities of succession with wisdom and grace.

REAL Success can support and facilitate the initial conversations through our qualified facilitators.  Just get in touch via our contact page if you’d like to know more.