crossroads
October 25, 2019

The Path Back To The Farm

 |  By: Sara Schafer

“I am going back to the farm. Dad says I can be the herd manager in three years.” Such statements make Bob Milligan cringe.

“Promotions should be based on performance and potential, not family status,” says Milligan, senior consultant at Dairy Strategies and former Cornell University professor.

An Opportunity Not A Right

Before a child returns to the operation, the senior generation needs to have a deep and meaningful dialogue with the potential successor, says Shannon Ferrell, ag law professor at Oklahoma State University Extension.

“Explain this is an opportunity, not an entitlement,” he says. ”If you have a successor to your farm business, you can’t just delete you and paste in some other person; they have to organically build into that role.”


>>> Kickstart your family's succession plan at the 2020 Legacy Conference, which takes place Jan. 28 in Chicago, as part of the Top Producer Summit.


The promotion of the junior generation should be no different than what it would be in any other large agribusiness or corporation.

“Advancement to a position with more responsibility should always be based on performance and readiness for the new position,” Milligan says. “Senior management has the responsibility to provide opportunities for advancement and rewards for those who have earned a promotion.”

The senior generation, Milligan says, should:

  • clearly communicate job responsibilities.
  • describe how promotions are earned.
  • provide mentoring as well as coaching.
  • encourage professional development and personal growth opportunities.

Treat Them Like Your Partner

By creating a professional framework for business communication and planning, both the senior and junior generations can test out their new roles, Ferrell explains.

“They will always be your kid,” he says. “But sometimes you have to let people make mistakes. Treat them like an equal, and train them to be your equal.”


Help Successors Learn from History

If successors are going to develop and improve their decision-making skills, they need to learn from their mistakes, says Danny Klinefelter, professor emeritus at Texas A&M University. Host debriefing sessions on key decisions at least every quarter, he says.

During the meetings, ask:

  • What caused any results that differed from exceptions?
  • What assumptions were right?
  • Are there things that should have been done differently?
  • If results were favorable, is the decision process repeatable?
  • Most important, what was learned?

Take a Deep Dive into Your Family’s Succession Plan

Meet and exchange ideas with other families who are in the process of succession planning. You’ll also hear from the country’s top farm succession experts at the Legacy Project Conference, which takes place Jan. 28 in Chicago. Learn more and register now!

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