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Family Business Matters       05/02 14:01

   Avoid Costly Regrets

   Don't let these three common misgivings stifle your growth and succession 
plans.

By Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser

   A benefit of facilitating hundreds of family business meetings over two 
decades is the chance to observe behaviors leading to successful family 
enterprises. Perhaps even more interesting, though, is the opportunity to hear 
the regrets of family members. Below are three of the most common regrets I 
hear as I travel around the country. Do any of these apply to your family 
business? 

   I REGRET NOT STARTING SOONER

   When helping family business members talk about their goals and plans, or 
leading them through difficult conversations, a common refrain is, "We should 
have started this process sooner." Several reasons usually account for the late 
start. Some fear that having the conversation might expose conflict or 
differences and harm relationships. Other family members feel it isn't their 
place to encourage the conversation, and often aren't sure how to get the 
discussion started. And many business owners were raised by a family, or during 
a period time, or in a culture, where they simply didn't talk about difficult 
issues. So they sweep them under the rug, hoping they will fade away. 

   But even when the conversation is difficult, or results in a less-than-happy 
ending -- an ending which is going to be unhappy regardless of whether people 
talk -- the process at least opens up what family members are thinking. Instead 
of assuming people's intentions or expectations, we confirm the opportunities 
or challenges faced by a family working together. In many cases, starting 
sooner could have prevented frustrations from festering and creating more 
emotional distance between family members.

   I REGRET NOT CLARIFYING THE PLAN

   This often occurs from family members who have operated for years without a 
plan to transition ownership and management. The general statement that 
"someday this will all be yours" is assumed to be good enough. Later, when the 
farm is unexpectedly split between on- and off-farm siblings, or the management 
transition drags on for decades, people become visibly upset. In some cases, 
family members say that if they had known how it would turn out, they would 
have done something different. In other cases, a sense of entitlement emerges. 
Without a sense of certainty about the plan, and with a growing feeling that it 
may not happen as they expect, those on the farm begin to feel they deserve 
some reward. Or they come to resent the business and the senior generation's 
control.

   Clarifying the plan doesn't mean divulging all of the details. Talking about 
ownership goals and time frames, and outlining the general transition of 
management duties, provides a common set of expectations -- a benchmark -- the 
family can use to evaluate progress.

   I REGRET NOT GROWING PROFESSIONALLY

   Many family members who have returned to the family business from the 
college or the corporate world say they miss professional development 
opportunities, and they regret not staying focused on their personal growth at 
the farm. Networking, workshops, classes or conferences are replaced with the 
work demands and multiple hats worn in a small agriculture business. Pretty 
soon, family members in their 40s or 50s feel they've grown stale and that it 
may be too difficult to learn different strategies or skills. Going to 
meetings, taking online classes, applying to your state ag leadership program, 
joining a peer group, or even listening to audio books and podcasts offer ways 
to stimulate your thinking, creativity and professional growth. 

   In his iconic song "My Way," Frank Sinatra sang, "Regrets, I've had a few, 
but then again, too few to mention." By learning from the experience of others, 
perhaps you too could sing that song. 

   **

   EDITOR'S NOTE: Lance Woodbury writes family business columns for both DTN 
and our sister magazine, "The Progressive Farmer." He is a Garden City, Kansas, 
author, consultant and professional mediator with more than 20 years experience 
specializing in agriculture and closely-held businesses. Email questions for 
this column to Lance@agprogress.com. Find all of DTN farm business columnists 
online at https://www.dtnpf.com/agriculture/web/ag/perspectives/columns


(MZT/CZ) 

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