Succession Planning…from the Farm to the Boardroom

FullSizeRender (1)My dad is retired now from business life but has always been a bi-vocational farmer which means the house has always been filled various agricultural media.  I was visiting my parents recently and came across a copy of and our blog pic was on the cover.  it caught my eye and confirmed that succession planning is important whether you run a farm or are the CEO in a boardroom.

This topic can be an intimating one for many leaders so I’ve come to describe it in a simple-to-understand definition:  Succession Planning is nothing more than creating bench strength in your team or business so you are prepared for the unexpected.

A simple definition…yes, but it takes an intentional plan to achieve it.  So, what about your team or business?  How prepared are you for an unexpected absence from the team.  What if the significant other of one of your employees is relocated (very possible)?  Or what if someone wins the lottery (unlikely, but fun to think about)?  Or, perhaps an employee develops cancer and must be on an extended leave (we hope this never happens)? 

Without a succession plan, your team or business will be compromised if an unexpected absence or departure occurs.  So whether you are new to this concept or have a plan in place, these four tips are some important things to consider and put into action.

Know What Your BIZ NEEDS
Succession Planning is all about readiness for the future.  The big question is: WHAT is your future going look like?  Your business plan sets the foundation for the skill, growth and development you will need to either build internally, hire externally or both.

It’s a PIPELINE not a Cherry Picker
Your goal is to develop individuals across the organization for potential needs as they emerge.  Opportunities abound with this approach because it ensures you have the bench strength to fill a quick project need or role who suddenly leaves the company  Secondly, it ensures you are identifying and developing talent at ALL levels of the organization, not just the most visible or well-liked employees.

Communicate BIG
One of the greatest retention challenges today is hanging on to great talent.  Employees (of all ages) want to work in an environment where they can see a future.  And the only way they know  about that future is from you.  Create a communication strategy that creates excitement across the company about its plans for the future.  Help them see a reason to stay with your company and also one to be excited about.

ASSESS You Current Talent
We could spend a great deal of time on this topic (after all, it’s what we do!).  However, this process is really three-fold.  1) Assess where your talent is today according to their current roles (Performance), and 2) Find out where/what their future goals are (Explore). Then, based on the business needs, 3) create growth plans to help the team grow in skills and experience.  This win/win ensures your team is growing but also getting ready for whatever the future may hold.  This process often flows within your performance management process so it integrates to your natural focus on talent rewards and growth.

There are many aspects of a solid succession plan.  And while there is a lot of talk today about it, I encourage you to not get overwhelmed.  Yes, it is critical to your company’s success; but it is doable with some planning and intentionality.  Like any big undertaking, take one step at a time.  And if you are unsure how to get started, then call us.  We’re happy to help.  After all, if farmers across America are concerned about their future, shouldn’t you be too?

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Guest Post: Business Transition – Plan Early & Communicate Often

Generational differences can create great opportunities and potential challenges for family-owned businesses who wish to transition the company. Our friend and colleague Ivie Burns shares some great tips for business owners.

According to the 2016 U.S. Family Business Survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, only about 43% of private businesses have done any exit planning whatsoever.1 Failure to execute a business transition may lead to multiple negative outcomes, including:

  1. Breakdown of communication and trust within the family unit.
  2. Inadequately prepared heirs and absence of a clear vision or mission to align family members.
  3. Failure by advisors to properly address taxation, governance and wealth preservation issues.

Pathways to Success
With success riding largely on a family’s ability to communicate and to clearly articulate a plan for the future, the following guidelines may help to ease the business transition process. 


Start planning early
Get the process started years before the actual transition occurs. Some experts recommend building an exit/transition strategy into the initial business plan. As part of the planning process, business owners should create:

  • Supporting structures, such as a family constitution and business bylaws to familiarize all parties with the rules of governance. Fewer surprises mean fewer conflicts and discord down the road.
  • A clear vision for the business that involves all family members, whether or not they are active in running the business. Visioning is an effective method of allowing all stakeholders to share their personal goals for the business, which in turn helps create buy-in and minimize future conflicts.

 Prepare the next generation
Identify the skills and leadership qualities the business may need in the future, and then prepare young family members to fulfill those roles. This will likely require sharing knowledge and providing educational opportunities.

Manage conflicting priorities
It is not uncommon for younger and older generations to have differing, and conflicting, priorities for the business.

  • Senior leaders may have concerns about whether the younger generation “has what it takes” to successfully run the business; anxiety about the next chapter of their lives (retirement, staying involved in some capacity); or worries about all children, including those not involved in the business, receiving a fair share of the family wealth.
  • Members of the younger generation may be anxious “making their mark” on the business by taking it in a new direction; investing in new technologies or processes that may improve the business but require a significant capital outlay; and micromanaging by an owner remaining involved in day-to-day operations.

 It is important that families express their concerns openly, and it may help to engage a professional facilitator. When all parties feel they are being heard and respected, the sense of commitment to the business – and the transition process – is strengthened.

For more information, feel free to contact Ivie and his team at Morgan Stanley.

Customer Experience..London Style

During the month of March, any restaurant with a television screen will be tuned in to the NCAA tournament.  And with it, a surrounding crowd pulling for “their” team.   A recent Saturday night was par for the course.  Gonzaga was playing Xavier so we decided to find a fun place to watch and that’s how we came across The Pub.  Picture it…a step back in time as if you are walking along the streets of London.  The menu offered more to choose from than I could decide so we engaged our server Jessica for some help and that’s when the fun experience began.

I love it when my travels allow me to have a great customer experience.  And when a great experience happens, you feel compelled to share it.  And that’s what occurred with Jessica.  She was nothing short of delightful.  She brought some qualities that may not be difficult in concept; they require a degree of intentionality that makes all the difference in creating great customer experiences.

She kept it FUN.
Okay, the restaurant was a pub, so fun should naturally be part of the experience right?  Well yes, but when you are hungry and thirsty (oh and it’s a crowded March Madness night), frustrations can set in very quickly.  Not so with Jessica.  She actually used the craziness of the crowd to check in with us – even making comments about the game.  In some ways it was like she was dining with us.  And when you think about it, we were pretty dependent on her for our meal.  Despite a stressful, busy environment, she ensured that’s not what we experienced. When those crazy times happen in your business, how do your employees translate that with your customers?  Do they gripe or perhaps even make excuses?  She made the difference for us.

The menu had many great selections so we asked her for assistance.  She helped us navigate with a brilliant process of elimination (traditional english fare vs a burger & fries, etc.).  Sounds simple in concept but much more difficult to do but she helped us in a fun, memorable way.  Jessica knew the menu (aka their offerings) so well she could navigate with ease around the variety of options.  From how dishes were prepared to portion size, she helped us make our decision. Of course she offered her personal favorites when we asked her.  After all, isn’t it great when your employees have favorites with your offerings?  It means she had tried everything on the menu.

She was GENUINE.
From the moment she said hello, Jessica made sure we felt welcome in “her restaurant”.  Given my personality, I wanted to know a bit more about her (big surprise).  How long she had worked at The Pub (3 years) and what she loved most about her job (meeting new people every day).  So when I asked if I could share our experience, she was flattered beyond words.  Showing the level of interest in her job that she does isn’t “normal” so when you see it, you want to tell others.  What’s funny, is from our time with her, her natural friendliness naturally shone through.  And isn’t that what we hope from each of our employees?

So how did our night end? Well Gonzaga won the game (yay) and we had a wonderful dining experience.  So much so, The Pub became one of our new favorite places in Cincinnati.  Thanks Jessica for making our night so much fun.  Can the same thing could be said of everyone on your team.  I hope so.  And here’s the good can!

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39 – Extreme Team Building with Jodi Skinner

In this episode Jodi Skinner, Chief Adventure Coordinator with Diamond Hawk Unlimited shares some out-of-the box strategies to energize your team and unlock new ways to drive maximum team effectiveness. Through intentional team building activities in nature, a whole new dimension of skills can be discovered.

Connect with Jodi and the Diamond Hawk team here.

Leadership Lessons at 12,000 Feet

There’s nothing quite like the Colorado Rockies in the winter.  I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days skiing on Copper Mountain.  It was quite cold but the views were beautiful.  Since I don’t ski regularly, I typically take a lesson on the first morning to get my ski legs back under me.  Dennis was my instructor.  And while his teaching was instrumental to me while I was wearing skis; the leadership applications really stuck with me.  Dennis often said, “You have two options.  The first is good job, way to master that principle.  Or good luck, as in, you’re on your own making it down the mountain in one piece!”  You know, the same can be said for leaders.  We can focus on mastering the principles of effective leadership or good luck getting our team to succeed.

So what are some leadership lessons from the slopes? Consider these three principles:

Small Details Matter
Dennis often made the comment that the altitude of the mountain doesn’t matter.  Gravity always wins so the key is mastering the basics to get down the mountain safely and to have fun.  In skiing, those basics focus on posture – hands slightly extended from the body; leaning a bit forward versus standing straight up; and maintaining a loose stance for flexibility.  Leadership is no different.  In your world, what are your basics?  Does your team have clear expectations? Do they receive regular ongoing feedback from you?  How well do you remove barriers for them?  How well do they trust you?  These are BIG basics but they matter one step at a time in the effectiveness of your team.

Everyone Learns Differently
We had seven skiers in our clinic and every skier was different in her experience, confidence and ability.  And Dennis knew that.  Throughout the lesson, he ensured he rode the ski lift with each participant individually so he could have one on one time with each of us.  That 5-10 minutes allowed Dennis to give individual attention, instruction and feedback.  He praised our progress and reminded us of one area to focus on during the next run down the mountain.  He praised the group as a whole as well which often became our pep talk but the real instruction always occurred individually.  Your team is no different. Each employee has different backgrounds, experiences, skills, and deficiencies.  They need that one on one time with you but in a way that relates to their uniqueness.  It’s how performance blooms.  Dennis is an expert skier but he adapted his message so he could related to us and us to him.  Leaders must do the same.

Glancing and Gazing
Finally, Dennis helped our perspective on the mountain. He reminded us that when a skier is worried about who is coming down the mountain behind them, they will focus too much looking backward they fall forward.  Instead, he told us the importance of glancing back (looking up the mountain quickly like you would do pulling your car onto a street) but your primary focus as a skier is always looking ahead.  This concept really stuck with me as a leader. So often we fall into the trap of focusing on our mistakes or not fully dealing with an issue which prevents us from looking and moving forward.  Where is your focus? Looking forward is so much more fun for you and your team.  Besides, falling up a hill on skis is really hard!

Four hours flew by with Dennis. Each one in our group was a more proficient and confident skier after spending time with him.  And we had fun too!  Wouldn’t it be nice if your team said the same of you?  Your workplace may not reside at 12,000 feet on Copper Mountain, but I promise you, your leadership journey can reach those same heights.  And by the way, the view from your 12,000 feet is spectacular!