Family Business Matters 12/30 05:00
A Step Up Instead of a Step Down
Consider the role of chairperson when it's time to let go as the family
DTN Farm Business Adviser
Transitions in family agriculture businesses are often focused on the senior
generation "letting go" and the younger generation "grabbing hold." But the
people who let go also need something to embrace when they consider their next
chapter. Boredom, loss of identity and the fear of no longer being relevant are
common concerns among those facing retirement from the family farm or ranch.
Who wants to grab hold of those kinds of issues?
The "what next" discussion with the senior generation often involves
hobbies, travel, moving to town or serving on boards. Those are great
activities, but what if the senior generation has no hobbies other than farming
or working? What if moving to town is depressing? What if traveling is not a
realistic option or serving on church or civic committees isn't a strength?
One way to reframe the transition so that it still has relevance for the
business and excitement for those transitioning away from daily tasks is going
from "CEO" to "Chairperson of the Board." That may sound like a big company
title, but the larger point is to focus on a different set of business-related
activities. Consider these three ways of thinking about the role change.
FROM CAPTAIN TO COACH
If you think about a sports team, the captain is often on the field with
their team members. They are calling the plays while playing the game -- active
participants in the march down the field or run down the court. A coach, on the
other hand, is on the sidelines. They are still active, but they are not
playing. They are watching the game from a different place, thinking about
options, planning for contingencies and looking several steps ahead, not just
at the immediate activity.
FROM DELEGATOR TO DESIGNER
A CEO is often expected to tell other people what to do, keeping people
focused on the right tasks. A chairperson, however, can work on designing more
strategic initiatives and conversations. For example, he or she might explore
how to diversify the balance sheet of the business. That person might
concentrate on designing an advisory board, developing an employment policy for
family members, finding new locations in which to operate or researching the
latest trends in how to retain key employees. He or she is planning for some of
the long-term opportunities and obstacles facing the organization.
FROM SUPERVISOR TO SUPPORTER
A third way to think about the chairperson role is to move away from
supervising people and toward supporting their personal and professional
development. The farm or ranch can get so busy with work that people lose focus
of what Stephen Covey called "sharpening the saw," his metaphor for improving
knowledge and skills.
Freed from daily operational responsibilities, the chairperson can have
conversations with employees and family members about the education and tools
they need to be more effective. He or she can explore potential courses,
seminars or conferences, and talk to other farms or ranches about how they are
supporting the growth of their people. A chairperson may be near the tail-end
of his or her career, but what better way to spend time than encouraging
younger people to invest in those things that will make their career great?
A love of the farming or ranching lifestyle, coupled with the demands for
labor on a farm or ranch, can create a dynamic that makes it hard to let go.
Reframing the transition challenge so the senior leader can grab hold of a
chairperson role makes the generational transition easier and gives the
retiring CEO a vital role in the ongoing life of the company.
Write Lance Woodbury at Family Business Matters, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite
415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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