Succession Planning: Where to Start & Why

By Lindsay Humphrey

10 /17 /23

“Without vision, you have no direction. Without direction, you have no purpose.” – Steve Gilliland

Sometimes the most difficult step in any process is the first one, but what happens when you don’t know what that should be? You stall. Not nearly enough farm families take the steps necessary to protect their legacy, leaving the future of the entire industry at risk. No business can function optimally without a vision and to have a vision, you need direction. Does your operation have a tried and true, written on paper vision that guides the day-to-day direction? If not, here’s a place to start.

Some things to consider when creating or reviewing the vision for your operation:

  • What are some of the core values of this operation? (Example: family focused, community based, environmentally connected, rooted in integrity and honesty, etc.)
  • Why are these core values important? (Example: We are a family focused operation and envision that continuing for multiple generations to come. It’s important that we include family members in all aspects of the business that speak to their strengths while also fostering an environment of growth and education.)
  • What are the goals for the operation now, in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, etc? (Example: To expand our row crop acreage to support multiple generations returning to the operation while also providing a way for those retiring from full time work a place to live and remain as involved as they want to be.)
  • How many people does this operation support today and how will that change in the near and distant future? (This can help shape goals that ultimately support the overall vision.)
  • Quite simply, what do you want? (Ask each current stakeholder in the farm and even those who will be in the near future.)

Simply knowing what everyone wants and needs the operation to look like in the future makes it exponentially easier to begin the succession planning process. This is quite possibly the most difficult part of the process. It’s all too easy for the visions and goals of one generation to contradict those of another or even the goals of another family member in the same generation. The most important thing to remember is this: everyone wants to keep the operation in the family and that should be a guiding pillar for all discussions. If necessary, a neutral third-party mediator might help these discussions go smoother than just hashing it out at the kitchen table. You should also schedule a time and day for these discussions, this keeps everyone on track and helps prevent the process from losing momentum. We also recommend doing so off the farm, so everyone is focused on this objective.

Luckily, resources for this topic are becoming more readily available with each year. Here are just a few of those to help you get started:

A farm is one of the most important living legacies in the history, and future, of mankind. While that comes across a bit romanticized, it’s true. However, you can’t forget that it’s a business first and foremost. That doesn’t mean your heart and soul aren’t invested in the farm, but it does tell you that you have to treat the farm like a business even when you don’t want to, or your legacy will be greatly diminished as a result.

Check back for part two in this succession planning series as we dive deeper into the process with more insight and free resources.