Legacy Project: Build Your Circle of Trust

04:28PM Mar 27, 2020
Rena Striegel
As a business coach, Rena Striegel works with farm families in the areas of strategic planning, business succession and leadership development.
( Farm Journal Media )

Preparing for transition requires transparency. You have to be willing to share processes, financials, relationships with professionals and, in some cases, even the “secret sauce.” Often, concern about confidentiality can cause a transition plan to stall or, in some cases, fail. Ensure your team is prepared to handle sensitive information in the correct way.

Start by identifying who needs to have information — your successors, certainly. If you have key managers or family who would be crucial in keeping your operation running should an unplanned event occur, include them as well.

To build a strong circle of trust, take these critical steps:

Create Clarity

Make sure everyone is on the same page and agrees to your terms. We often take for granted people will understand what to do with information. This is typically not the case. Take the time to share with them why confidentiality is important, and don’t be afraid to make it a condition for being included in the circle. You might consider naming the circle (aka the leadership team) so the members know when they are meeting, there is an expectation of confidentiality.

Mentor and Coach

Help leaders make the break from established relationship dynamics. Young leaders or managers have been working as peers with your employees. They might also have very strong family relationships built on sharing information without restriction. It can be difficult to shift these dynamics, especially if people in their circle rely on them for information. Ensure you acknowledge how difficult confidential topics can be and coach them on how to respond to inquiries. Again, do not assume they will know how to handle this appropriately.


Members of the circle who are not experienced at handling confidential information might make an error. It is a good idea to have a plan for this in advance. What is the penalty? Once your team knows your expectations, they should also know what the penalty is for a breach. Be clear and consistent. Do not put off tough conversations. Once a behavior occurs without consequence, your team might assume it was acceptable.

Build Trust

Start with less critical information. As you see your team is able to treat the information you share as confidential, you can include them in conversations about more sensitive topics.

By following these steps, your operation will benefit from having a strong circle of leaders actively engaged in discussion and decisions involving sensitive or confidential information. 

To access resources and tools to help guide your succession planning journey, visit www.FarmJournalLegacyProject.com