I recently had the opportunity to speak to Canadian agriculturalists as part of the virtual 2021 Organic Winterfest hosted by The Andersons Canada and Sylvite.
The theme of the event was preparing for prosperity both personally and professionally in the family farm business. As a fifth-generation rancher, I was hired to share my family’s story of legacy building, transition and scenario planning for successful outcomes.
While there is no silver bullet to achieving the goal of building a family business and securing its viability for future generations. There are certain steps we can all take to move the needle in the right direction.
Unfortunately, time, resources, finances and the ability to get everyone on the same page and ready to have difficult conversations can limit our planning and preparedness. Even more troubling is that many have to learn the lessons the hard way, by experiencing the hard knocks of poor planning, poor communication and poor execution of our best intentions.
We are in a brand new year, and although many of us are worried about upcoming regulations, administrative changes and other external threats that may make it increasingly difficult to grow and maintain our agricultural enterprises. We must focus on things we can absolutely control: Such as making our businesses bulletproof for whatever might come our way.
So what can we do in 2021 to insulate our businesses against future obstacles while, maintaining strong family relationships?
Let’s start with answering these five questions:
1. What is your family mission?
Building a legacy requires every family member to have a clear understanding of the short and long-term goals. Without clearing communicating what those goals are, it can be easy to get sidetracked by day-to-day challenges or distractions. Having a defined mission that every person in the business can focus on and default to is critical to move the business forward. Get a mission statement written down and have a family business meeting to explain exactly what that mission will require of each family member to accomplish.
2. Are you avoiding difficult conversations?
Every family has that one topic they all want to avoid — death, divorce, sibling strife, bitterness and resentment from days gone by, illness, financial issues, harsh words, loss or changes of a job bringing in off-farm income, political, ethical or lifestyle differences and the list goes on and on.
Consider yourself lucky if your family and business hasn’t been impacted by one or more of these issues. Chances are there’s an elephant in the room in your family business that needs to be addressed in 2021. Commit to yourself as the owner or investor in the family business to set things straight, so everyone can move forward in a healthy way that strengthens both the enterprise and the family.
3. Are you mentoring the next generation?
One of the biggest mistakes that families make is assuming that a 20-year old kid straight out of school can return home and handle a sizable operating note. Jumping in with both feet may work out for some operations, but every effort should be made to promote financial literacy, personal responsibility, leadership traits and the values and ethics that have built the family business to this point.
To assist the next generation in preparing for a leadership and ownership role in the business, this requires time, investment, mentorship and learning opportunities for the young person. Are you finding ways to ensure that the next generation in your family is equipped and ready to fill big shoes?
4. Are you writing your plans down?
Don’t assume that communicating your wishes to the family means that your intentions will be followed following your death. Without a will, succession plan and/or trust in place, you’re throwing caution to the wind and risking your family imploding as they battle out the details in court.
The most loving gift you can offer your family at the end of a long career in agriculture is to have a plan in place and clearly communicate the contents of that plan while you’re still around. This takes away the element of surprise and anger that might be occur should the bombshell of your plans be revealed after your funeral.
And if this sounds morbid, I apologize, but anyone who has invested a lifetime in acquiring land, cattle and other assets can also recognize that there will be generational shifts over time. If you fail to plan, you plan for the generational business to fail.
5. Are you looking for ways to innovate, pivot, connect, serve and lead?
In an ongoing theme that I began focusing on in 2020, I believe the true leaders, movers and shakers in the beef industry are looking at challenges and turning them into opportunities. Don’t be so rigid in your planning and vision for the business that you’re unable to adapt to circumstances that might impact your businesses long-term viability.
Here’s to making 2021 a productive year where we safeguard our family businesses and relationships against external threats and situational obstacles that may challenge us in the years to come!
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.