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Family Business Matters       09/14 06:18

   Successfully Navigating Transitions

   While we often talk about transitions in the context of succession planning 
and retirement, there are other transitions that can happen on family farms and 

By Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser

   While preparing for a recent talk on change management, I read William 
Bridges' "Managing Transitions," a helpful book containing both conceptual 
models and practical strategies for thinking about family and business 
transitions. While we often talk about transitions in the context of succession 
planning and retirement, I see several other transitions in family farms and 
ranches to which Bridges' ideas apply:

   -- The transition in ownership from a couple (parents) to a group 

   -- The transition from a small business to a more professional organization;

   -- The transition from doing the physical work to managing people;

   -- The transition from a simple entity structure to a more complex system to 
manage risk, farm programs, expand partnerships or mitigate income or estate 

   -- The transition to more acres, more business diversity or different 
farming practices.


   In any significant change, Bridges suggests we go through three 
psychological phases: letting go, the neutral zone and new beginnings. 

   Letting go involves the realization that the way you have done things in the 
past will not work for the future and includes the physical act of stopping 
specific behaviors or tasks. In the case of a retiring family member, examples 
might include letting go of being the primary relationship with a landowner or 
vendor, or letting go of daily decisions and supervision.

   The neutral zone is that unsettled place after you have chosen to let go, 
but you are not yet fully comfortable with the way things will be. You might 
second-guess your decision, wondering if you did the right thing. You could 
apply this "neutral zone" to the adoption of cover crops or new tillage 
practices, the use of a new bookkeeping system or the switch to a new CPA or 
marketing adviser. Those changes involve moving to something new, but it takes 
awhile to become clear about how the change will fully play out.

   The new beginnings phase might apply to a member of the next generation -- 
or even a new, non-family employee -- becoming fully integrated in the 
business, or to your efforts to hold weekly management meetings or to develop 
new family communication patterns. You can see people beginning to increase 
their contributions or hitting their strides in their new roles. 


   To make any transition go better, Bridges suggests three useful guidelines. 
First, recognize the consequences of putting off a decision when the time is 
ripe for a transition. Many families have told me, sometimes too late, they 
should have started the communication and transition process much earlier. Not 
making a transition when the time is ripe slows your progress in the future. 

   Second, help people in your family and business see why you need to make the 
change. Bridges calls this "selling the problem." Too often, we become focused 
on making a change when not everyone understands why a different approach is 

   Finally, make sure your communication process includes Bridges' "Four Ps": 
Communicate the "purpose" for the transition or change, the "picture," or the 
intended goal or outcome of the change, the "plan" for how the transition will 
work and each person's "part," or role, in the transition. 

   Bridges doesn't promise that transition will be less difficult from a 
psychological perspective, but he offers a kind of compass by which to navigate 
the path of change. If you understand the phases of transitions, if you help 
people see the need for change, the importance of timing and the consequences 
of your current actions, and if you communicate regularly about key issues, 
your family and business will be better at navigating transitions.


   Editor's Note: Write Lance Woodbury at Family Business Matters, 2204 
Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email lance@agprogress.com.


Copyright 2018 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.

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