Family Business Matters 01/27 17:56
Five Habits to Support Your Succession Goals
To move succession and estate planning ahead, resolve to improve your
By Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser
In a recent column on goal setting, I suggested three areas of focus for the
New Year: improving relationships, increasing family communication and
capturing and sharing major life lessons or stories as part of your legacy. The
idea is to take something a little more difficult to measure (versus
quantifiable goals like losing weight or reducing debt) and creating a set of
objectives that have a long-term strategic impact on your family and business.
Here I want to offer more support for accomplishing these "soft" kinds of
goals. I say they are soft because they involve a set of skills and attitudes
that are less technical and more relational. Family improvement goals can evoke
deep emotions, require awkward conversations, call for forgiveness, include
interaction way outside of your comfort zone, and elicit both difficult and
Furthermore, progress in the areas of communication, conflict resolution,
estate and succession planning often comes in fits and starts, where some
improvement is offset by unexpected family problems or challenges that make you
feel like you've taken three steps back. These kinds of goals are also
difficult because there often is no clear finish line. You can always improve
family communication and relationships -- the work is never finished. And you
can always find more life lessons to impart -- they keep coming!
In the spirit of moving forward, here are five useful techniques for making
progress on the "soft side" of your family business:
REFLECT ON YOUR PROGRESS
Dan Sullivan, a coach for entrepreneurs, observes that there are two kinds
of successful people: happy and unhappy. Unhappy successful people are those
who, despite significant blessings and success, always feel disappointed that
they didn't achieve more. Happy successful people, on the other hand, are those
that every now and again reflect on how far they've come. Sure, there are
possibilities to achieve even greater goals, but they feel a sense of gratitude
for what they've accomplished. And they tend to be happy about their
My point in mentioning this happy/unhappy dichotomy is that one key to
progress is "turning around," looking back and reflecting on how far you've
come. From growing the farm to becoming more profitable to improving the land
to raising your kids, you have achieved much. Spend some time writing down your
accomplishments, as you will find the effort provides the fuel to tackle the
next round of improvements.
Sullivan advocates developing a vision for your progress over the next few
years. He encourages entrepreneurs to consider the following question: "If
we're sitting here three years from now, looking back over that three years,
what would have to have happened for you to feel good about your personal and
We've all heard that writing down your goals portends some level of success
in their accomplishment. In this case, visualizing and writing down "what has
to happen for you to feel good about your progress" achieves a similar result.
Imagining those results helps keep your mind's eye focused on the future, both
consciously and subconsciously. The imagined future pulls you into those more
difficult family conversations or ambiguous succession discussions. And even if
you don't achieve all your benchmarks, there is a high degree of probability
you will make significant progress.
START WITH GRATITUDE
A growing body of research and literature is focusing on gratitude and its
positive effects. For example, the "Harvard Mental Health Letter: In Praise of
Gratitude" (http://bit.ly/1XAFxP3) notes: "Gratitude helps people feel more
positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with
adversity and build strong relationships." If you start your communication and
planning efforts and meetings with a focus on those things for which you are
thankful, the chances are that you'll not only feel better, but you will make
more progress. Consider such expressions of gratitude a "warm-up" exercise to
your meetings over the next year. And if one of your goals is improving a
relationship with someone, mentioning why you are grateful for them is likely
to open a whole new direction for your discussion.
TAKE ONE STEP AT A TIME
Family business communication, including discussions involving succession
and estate planning, elicit deeply rooted feelings. The emotional ties to the
land, the sense of obligation to one's vocation to feed others, the transition
into retirement and the course of your family's history create, at times, some
incredibly unpredictable conversations.
The key to progress in the soft areas is not that you accomplish a checklist
of activities, but that you keep moving forward. It is hard to map out which
issues you'll tackle three meetings from now, as much could change, including
your feelings and ideas based on other family member responses. Instead, make a
promise to meet again. Keep talking. Commit to an ongoing dialogue and through
the process you will gain clarity about the next step.
FIND AN ACOUNTABILITY PARTNER
Several family business partners I know ask their close friends or business
associates to "nag" them about their communication and planning efforts. An
even better idea is to find someone who is also going through similar family
endeavors, and agree to hold each other accountable to staying the course.
Commit to talk monthly about what is working, where you are struggling, and
what your next step should be. A business owner or family friend that you trust
can often provide as much accountability, if not more, than your professional
advisers. With mobile phones, email and text messages, an accountability
partner can easily nudge you to keep moving.
Improving relationships, defining the contours of your future management and
ownership transitions and capturing elements of your legacy can undoubtedly
feel overwhelming. But some simple habits, practiced over days, weeks and
months, can create momentum and lead to significant progress in your family
business improvement efforts over the next year.
Editor's Note: Lance Woodbury 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. For more on this topic, see DTN's Minding Ag's Business
blog. Find Woodbury's past columns online at
Copyright 2017 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.
Get your local Cash Bids emailed to you each morning from DTN – click here
to sign up for DTN Snapshot.