Involvement — define expectations
“Almost everyone I work with in agriculture fights formality, and by that, I mean defining a job description,” Dave Specht, founder of Advising Generations LLC, and author of the new book, The Farm Whisperer — Secrets to Preserving and Perpetuating Farms, says. “Most family-business stakeholders have a ‘do whatever it takes to get the job done’ type work ethic because their operation depends on it. While that attitude is essential, it isn’t concrete enough to provide the structure needed.”
According to Specht, the definition needs to start out with simple things, such as when to show up in the morning; when it’s ok to call it a day; weekend requirements for special projects and feeding; specific tasks they are expected to fulfill; and expectations for seasonal hours such as during hay season, calving and breeding.
“There needs to be clarification of what the expectations are, and then in one way or another need to be followed up on,” Specht explains. “That way accountability is given to everyone involved, and if something needs to be addressed, the job specifications can be pulled out and it doesn’t become personal.”
Specht also warns of unintended consequences when open communication is not practiced between the senior and junior generations. A classic scenario he often sees is a communication triangle. For example, dad has a problem with the way son is handling work responsibilities. Instead of approaching son directly, he goes to mom to have her talk to son.
“There are so many women who play the mediator between two men with dysfunctional communication — and it’s not fair to expect them to be the buffer,” Specht says. “In this example, dad needs to go to son directly. And if needed, mom can coach dad on how to approach the conversation.”
One of the most crucial aspects in outlining involvement is the plan in how the transition of responsibilities from the senior generation to the next will be made. Specht says he has seen the greatest success when key decisions are gradually handed down to be made by the younger generation while they still have the safety net of the senior generation to fall on if needed. He also recommends cross-training to eliminate risk in responsibilities not being taken care of properly if something happens to the key decision maker.
“Write down the things that only one person knows how to do and start working on cross-training, checking things off the list as you go,” he says. “This also helps keep the next generation engaged through continually progressing and learning.”
Specht recalls a case he worked on several years ago which involved a family-owned feedyard that was operated by three sons and their father. The father was well into his 80s but still making every single buying, selling and management decision for the feedyard.
“His sons, or ‘the boys,’ as I like to call them, had essentially worked as hired men for their father their entire lives — and there were all in their 50s,” Specht recalls. “So the boys called me in to talk to their father about the importance of not only succession planning, but the importance of handing down responsibilities and cross-training. Long story short, I was sent packing by their father.
“I often wonder what happened to the family, but I doubt it was a successful ending.”
In the September issue of Drovers CattleNetwork, part three of the ranch-succession planning series will discuss succession process and the generation business 360.