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Leave a Legacy: Keys to Planning Success

11:43AM Dec 28, 2010
Kevin Spafford sized down

As I prepared for the 2011 Legacy Project Workshop series, I studied feedback from our 2010 meetings and refined the key issues to planning success. The focus of each workshop is the people in the audience. I measure each slide, worksheet and reading assignment against my ability to help each person better understand succession. Our goal is to provide good information, tools, time to complete a few exercises and encouragement.

Our workshops reinforce the value of the five secrets to planning success. When a family uses these secrets, they’ll create a succession road map designed to achieve results.

The 2011 workshops are titled: "Plan Success. Enjoy Life." I think you will do just that when you abide by these keys to good planning:

1. Learn to use good communication. Communication is the heartbeat of a family business. Learn to connect in a respectful and constructive manner for planning success, as well as helping family members grow personally and professionally.

Communication is more than talking, though. It’s listening to learn and actions to support your words. It’s important to understand the wants, needs and intentions of others.

Although families communicate on a regular basis, they don’t often formalize their efforts to maximize results.

While a written communication plan might be too formal for most families, it’s important to have regular meetings, written agendas, behavior guidelines, a decision-making process, written or taped records of each meeting and follow-up procedures for every meeting.

2. Define common objectives. Human nature tells us to focus on our own needs first. In a family business, unchecked self-interest can be the beginning of the end. Each person must agree that the decisions made and actions taken should first benefit the operation and, above all, cause no harm.

Efforts focused on what’s best for the business will result in an operation that is able to endow the family with financial rewards, growing equity and vocational satisfaction.

Stay focused on the objectives that will improve operational integrity, ensure and enhance each family’s financial security and prepare the next generation to lead.

3. Overcome common obstacles. A succession plan must address problems common to every family-owned business. This process is designed to first distill concerns, draw them out into the open and then design solutions that will mitigate any negative effects. At some point in the succession planning process, each family will have to face five common challenges: financial insecurity, equal versus fair, active versus inactive, in-laws and the unknown.

4. Fortify the operation. In previous columns, I’ve written about giving a voice to the operation. If each person speaks for their own self-interest, who speaks for the operation? If the operation is going to survive and continue to endow the family with financial security, future opportunities, family values and a lasting heritage, it must have a voice in the discussion. A vibrant, growing business will return opportunity to the family. The opposite is true as well—if the business is not healthy, financially and structurally, it cannot possibly continue to provide for the family.

Family members must realize the physical, financial and intrinsic value of continuing farm ownership. Each decision must be measured against what is good for the operation, and personal goals must not compromise or unduly burden the operation.

5. Take definitive action. Good intentions without action are hollow promises. They don’t mean anything, and they’ll never lead to a successful result. The family must take definitive action to achieve its most heartfelt succession intentions. Each active member of the family must play a role in the succession planning process. From family meetings to decisions, conversation to implementation, accountability to professional development, each person must accept the obligation for a successful outcome.