Preparing your successor

Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council
June 08, 2017
By Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council
Preparing your successor
Photo by Fotolia
Succession planning involves transferring not just the ownership, but also the management of your farm to ensure its continued smooth operation and profitability.

To achieve this it is imperative that your successor has the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to successfully take over the running of the business.

Three of every four agricultural businesses will change hands in the next 10 years as Canada’s producers and farm owners retire. Unfortunately, research shows that as few as one in three family-owned businesses will survive the transition. One of the major reasons for this failure is lack of planning.

Preparing your successor for their role is a key feature of succession planning and this process takes time – perhaps several years. A significant amount of training and development is often required before your successor is ready to take on their new role, and those development activities need to be a part of your succession plan.

The following are some of the methods you can use to help develop your successor.

  • Coaching: A series of interactions with a coach (typically recruited from outside the operation) to provide successors with the tools and opportunities needed to develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  • Conferences and seminars: Attendance at conferences and seminars to keep up with evolving knowledge.
  • Formal coursework: Formal training programs including seminars, workshops, and academic programs delivered in person or online.
  • Job rotation: Movement through several positions over a period of time to broaden skills.
  • Job shadowing: Observing another worker performing job tasks.
  • Job swapping: Cross-training by switching positions for a specified period of time.
  • Knowledge transfer: Having the job holder transfer their knowledge to the potential successor.
  • Mentoring: A process in which a more senior person provides guidance, advice, and assistance to develop a more junior colleague.
  • On-the-job training: Training directly related to the job provided by a more experienced co-worker or supervisor.
  • Role modelling: Observing a role model who performs tasks well.
  • Self-study: Reading to increase knowledge.
Whichever method you choose to develop your successor, it is important that you are involved in the transition period. There are a few key steps you can take to ensure that your successor is properly prepared to take over the business.

  • Allow the successor to participate in key business decisions. These decisions can increase in importance, complexity, or impact over a longer period of time until the successor is prepared to make these decisions alone.
  • Introduce the successor to key contacts. Maintain your relationships with key contacts and stakeholders by allowing the successor time to build connections and establish their own relationships with these individuals. This allows stakeholders the opportunity to become comfortable with the new owner.
  • Expose the successor to all parts of the business. The best way to learn about and understand the business as a whole is to work in all of its different areas. The successor can use their work experience to help guide their business decisions.
  • Gradually allow the successor to assume your duties. Once the successor has gained a basic knowledge of the business, gradually allow them to assume your duties until they are running the business on their own.
It can be difficult to adjust to change, especially when that change involves stepping away from your business. One of the hardest things to do is to give your successor enough freedom to learn, make mistakes, and find their own way of doing things. When you keep a tight hold on the business, it can cause frustration and prevent your successor from fully moving into their new role. If the successor is a family member, this can cause great tension among the family. It is important for you to embrace the idea of succession and trust your successor to take over your role. Remember, succession planning is a process and does not occur overnight. Take the time to adequately plan this process and adjust to your new phase in life.

Comprehensive information on this and other agricultural HR topics is available from Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council’s AgriHR Toolkit.

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