After attending one of your workshops, I decided to initiate the succession planning discussion for our family. I work closely with my dad and grandpa on our family farm in Indiana. Grandpa is going to be 79 this year, Dad is 52 and I’m 27. My brothers and sister work off the farm.
Dad supports my efforts to start planning for succession, but Grandpa is reluctant. Privately, Grandpa agrees we need to do something. However, when the rest of the family is around and listening, he’s not interested. What can I do to encourage Grandpa to start the process? He admits to me that it might be time, especially given my desire to continue the family operation. He just won’t go any further. What should I do now?
Based on your comments, it doesn’t sound like your grandfather is resistant to the idea of planning for succession; he might be procrastinating for other reasons. Succession can be a difficult topic to talk about, even for a well-intended senior generation. The process itself can be complex and awkward. Many families hesitate to engage in the process because they fear uncertain outcomes and unintended consequences.
Your grandfather might be concerned about the rest of the family. You mention your immediate family, which is challenging enough, but what about his other children and grandchildren? Family issues take a front-row seat in succession planning discussions.
Try putting yourself in your grandpa’s shoes. He’s spent a lifetime building the farm, nurturing the land and growing his professional capabilities. He’s become efficient and learned new technologies. For him, farming is more fun than it has ever been and working with you and your dad is probably gratifying. He might be thinking, "Why would I want to give that up?"
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be like that. Succession can be the next step in his professional life. It can be a new challenge and an opportunity for professional growth.
Grandpa’s role should transition from operational management to chairman of the board. He should assume mentoring responsibilities, guiding you into a leadership role and helping your dad make the critical decisions for the farm operation.
I recommend that you promote succession planning as an opportunity to grow the operation forward. Grandpa will be motivated to help grow the operation, and it sets the right tone as you seek his commitment. Imagine that you’re in a position to redefine the farm operation and
engage each person according to his or her skills and abilities. Separate management tasks so that you and your father engage in the duties and make decisions equal with your aptitudes. Allow your grandfather to work with each of you to become a better leader.
Devise a new business plan, or revise an existing one to reflect the new management structure. Focus on the responsibilities of each person in the operation, and make sure that you are using each person’s strengths. In addition to a business plan, now is a great time to review your management systems and team development.
You might also consider using our Conversation Starters worksheet in reverse. Respond to the questions and be prepared to discuss your answers with your grandfather. Let him know how important it is that you be able to follow in his footsteps and that, together, the three of you might create an operation that is bigger, better and stronger than any one of you could create alone.