Talking is key to succession planning

Mediation can be an effective way to move difficult discussions about succession forward, says Jo Speed of Kite Consulting. Here, Jo explains how mediation works.

It is not unusual for discussions about succession to lead to conflict and even for a stalemate to be reached. However, even if family members don’t see eye-to-eye, a way forward can be found, says Jo.

Jo, a dairy consultant and mediator, works with family farming businesses across the country who are ‘stuck’ with discussions around the future of the business, particularly when family members have differing views. She uses Australian expert Lyn Sykes’ facilitation model, which encourages the family to be honest and open and to find common ground to move forward.

“The model has two parts, which run over one full day,” explains Jo. “First, I meet with family members, giving them the opportunity to talk as individuals and I mediate. I ask the questions they probably wouldn’t ask each other.”

Jo’s role is to encourage individuals to speak openly while looking for any areas of common ground between them. “Then we work towards an agreement of what that common ground is. This may simply be the fact that they want the farm to carry on or don’t want to carry on as they are. It’s something for them to build on.”

She encourages clients to take ownership of their issues: “People don’t mind change, but they don’t like to be changed. It is a very emotional time and hard work, but taking ownership does empower a family.”

From there, an action plan is formulated and agreed. “The action plan is thorough. For example, instead of an action being ‘call the accountant’, it specifies who will call the accountant, when and how. It also includes when they will report back to the family with the next steps and a date to meet the accountant. There is also a contingency for follow up if the family don’t hear back by the end of the week and so on.”

There are often misunderstandings within the family about what individuals want or don’t want, and much of Jo’s work is to help families understand that. Above all, her advice is to not delay discussions on succession. “What will the situation look like in 10 or 20 years’ time if you don’t do something now? Grasp the nettle. The only way to solve succession issues is to sit down and talk as a family with someone independent who can help you.

“Talking is key, and you need to do it sooner rather than later. It doesn’t come naturally to many farmers, but help is out there.”

Independent mediation can help resolve many business and personal issues. Mediators with agricultural specialism can be found via specialist mediation or advisory services, the Central Association for Agricultural Valuers, solicitor practices and consultancy firms.


About Jo Speed

Jo has worked in the dairy industry for more than 25 years. Her dairy career as an assistant herd manager led her to work in New Zealand and on a 1,000-cow unit in Portugal. Jo has an animal science degree from Harper Adams, is a certified Cow Signals trainer and a qualified life coach with a postgraduate diploma in psychology.

She joined Kite Consulting in 2015, and her areas of expertise include mediation, facilitating discussion groups, lameness prevention and cow mobility. Jo is also a volunteer for the Farming Community Network.


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