Generational Succession Planning. Is it getting better?



By John Moor

I hope so and yet HOPE is not a strategy that I put much faith in!! H.O.P.E in the work I do as a Family Succession Planning Facilitator and Mentor stands for, Help. Open. People’s. Eyes.


The following information and discussion will contain generalizations and my personal experiences gained over the past 12 odd years having worked with over 200 families both in South Africa and Australia.

Today I want to highlight and discuss the role Women play in succession planning within the Family Business. Often the first call for help comes from one of the ladies (wife, daughter or daughter-in-law) in the Family, normally followed by the younger generation sons. Unfortunately, very seldom from the Older generation men or fathers.

Ladies I applaud you all for the work you do in this area, without your contribution succession planning would be even more difficult!!

Women normally have a better “feel” for what is going on within the family than the men do, they have good emotional intelligence and become proactive rather than reactive and are often the “glue” holding things together. They often get caught in the middle trying to support their husband or partner and also have the need to be there for their children.

Triangulation of conversations is common!!

Women often get blamed for causing the conflict while I believe that more often than not the conflict was always there but just having the lid down so tight it was going to blow sooner or later with a bigger mess to clean up.

Non-Family Daughter and Son in Laws very often have a different perspective on the family dynamics and can be tremendously insightful when dealing with generational and sibling conflict. Often they are not invited to “family” meeting which I believe is a mistake!!

There are a couple of distinct areas that are of greatest concern when I get the first call.

Functional Authority,

By this I mean who is in-charge of making things happen?

Most younger generation producers I work with are more conflicted with the older generation around this issue than they are about long-term asset ownership. (this up to a point which I will discuss in “Family life cycle”)

For Functional authority to be clear a conversation needs to be had between all the managers and owners as to who is responsible for getting the day to day, month to month and year to year activities planned that are essential to create a productive business.

This discussion needs to be recorded, expectations agreed upon and then the authority given to the responsible person to get “the job done” as agreed. That person or persons then needs to take responsibility and deliver on the expectations agreed upon. Doing this leaves little room for misinterpretations and conflict. Support and regular feedback is essential to create the desired outcome and produce a level of trust between members. A person’s capacity and ability needs to be matched with the desired outcome!

Roles and Responsibilities

This is more to do with who does what, when and how.

Every function/job on the farm needs to be done by someone, just assuming everyone knows what he or she is responsible for will cause conflict, especially as people come and go, managers roles change, and new responsibilities are created.

There are certain “jobs” people loath doing and other that they love doing!! Unfortunately, they all need to be done!!

The best way to often get this done in a multi-generational business is to allocate, by agreement, the work to the most skilled or suited person to the job. Things that are either time wasters or low value jobs can easily be outsourced while the owners get on with more valuable use of their time.

Family Life Cycle

This might sound strange but is one of the fundamental drivers for change.

More often than not this drive for change comes from the younger generation, there is a tipping point at which promises and working together in the business without a formal agreement or ownership cease to be acceptable. In my experience this tipping point is not necessarily age dependent but rather NEED and CIRCUMSTANCE dependent.

As a young partnership grows and becomes a family unit their needs change, a mother and father become more and more focused on the future of their children, schooling, and their own futures and less dependent (sometime) on their own parents for providing this. All too often this dependance on the older generation and the business they find themselves involved with does not allow this new desire to be adequately fulfilled. They are seeking independence, autonomy, and the need to often take more risks to get ahead.

All too often this collides directly with the older generation having just reached a level of comfort in the business that is providing them with financial and emotional stability, meaning and satisfaction, and the desire to reduce their risk looking towards retirement.

When common ground and a new way forward cannot be developed at this point the younger generation often feels the need to “eject” from the business, waste no more time not having the desired certainty needed and start something new in which they have more control of their destiny!!

Asset Ownership

This is often NOT the root cause or first port of call when succession planning problems arise. The above three issues are often the most conflicted.

Ultimate security of ownership is still a particularly important part of successful generational succession planning. No one lives forever although some believe they might!!

Most families have multiple children and the desire to be fair or equal can easily and does cause huge angst in the older generation and fear and mistrust in the younger generation.
If a son or daughter has been working for several years with no “future ownership security” they become vulnerable to a contested Will from other family members. Non farming siblings often see it as being unfair that one or two of their brothers or sisters gets left a majority share of the family wealth just because “it’s tied up in land” that is not easily divisible, and so it goes on.

The best solution to avoid much of this conflict is to have regular, facilitated family meetings where everyone is included, and everyone has a chance to better understand and become part of the solution not part of the problem.

Your accountants, lawyers and financial planners are excellent at providing the accounting, legal and retirement advice, but leave the people issues up to an experienced and qualified facilitator, 99% of the conflict arises in this space!!

So, what is the answer??

In all my years of helping families overcome difficulties in their relationships the single biggest failing is GOOD COMMUNICATION. Communication is a skill, very often not taught and even less well practiced.

There are 2 broad categories to be aware of in a family owned and operated business. The first is to accept that we are dealing with 2 different structures that require different styles of communication. If you get this wrong the consequences are dire

If any of the above resonates with you its probably time to take the bold step and ask for assistance to help hold the first family meeting. Its not as difficult as you would imagine if a trained and experienced Facilitator is in the room. You often don’t get a second chance if the first meeting goes poorly.

John Moor

Growmoor Biological

Building Business and Family together.