Starting the Succession Planning Conversation
Communication isn’t exactly an ag economics professor’s area of expertise, but Rodney Jones has learned through hands-on experience. Here are some pointers the Oklahoma State University professor and extension specialist has learned about tough conversations from trial and error:
Pick a time to discuss.
Pick the location to have these tough conversations, and pick the time.
Holidays are when families get together. The worst thing you can do is start that conversation around the holiday dinner table. Schedule a time to talk. Don’t do it around the family dinner table, because we all know what the power structure is going to look like in those situations where we all grew up. Even though we aren’t children anymore, we are all going to assume the same roles we did when we were young, because we are all sitting in the same seats we did when we were kids.
Recognize different personality types and adjust.
There are all kinds of ways we assess different personality types.
To start these conversations, recognize we all think differently, have different priorities and different ways of thinking about what’s important. Recognize different approaches to the problem. These are very hard things for farmers and ranchers to do. We are trained to be producers. We are all out there doing the hard, physical work. But this communication is really hard for us.
Bring up sensitive topics a little bit at a time.
Everyone has a threshold for the amount of stress or change they can accommodate at a certain time. Once you push too far, people negatively react or shut down.
Bring things up in a sensitive manner, not all at once. Don’t use blanket statements like, “We need to decide what we are going to do with the farm sometime.” That just leaves everybody wondering, “Why? Are you sick? Are you going to die?”
Ask for help.
Many land grant universities have a farm transition workbook or suite of tools that can be helpful. Oklahoma State University developed the Oklahoma Farm Transition Manual. Even local county extension staff can help you or steer you in the right direction. Also, an ag estate attorney may have a communication specialist he or she can recommend to facilitate the discussion.
Editor’s note: Sara Gugelmeyer is a freelance writer from Lakin, Kan.