“What’s the best way for the next generation to learn how to run the business side of the farm?” This is a question I’ve found most farmers have as they think about bringing the next generation in to leading the operation.
This is a really good question to be asking. Thinking about this ahead of time lets you make plans for how you will go about training the next generation around business topics, including the farm’s finances and marketing. Often, when that training has been left up to chance, the results can be a disaster for the farm operation – and family relationships.
How do they learn?
One thing to consider is how your next generation leader or leaders learn best as individuals. The answer can come from your observations of them learning something new and your discussions with them about how they learn best. Their unique learning style will give you clues around the mix of strategies you can then use to help train them in the farm’s business matters.
For example, maybe your next generation leader learns best by doing, through direct participation. You may have seen them learn best in the past through watching demonstrations that include hands-on activities where they immediately get to try out what they’re learning. They need to “get their hands dirty,” so to speak.
These future leaders need to see how things play out in real time, preferably right in front of them. It might be helpful to carve out an area of responsibility for them where they will make all the decisions – and then discuss with them periodically why they made each decision. This way, you’ll find out a lot about how they think through things, as well as areas where they need more training.
Maybe your future leader likes to study up on the new subject or task ahead of time. This person might want to first read information or watch videos or presentations about what they will be doing. They might benefit from shadowing you, as the current leader, to observe how you handle situations or decisions. They would probably like to hear you walk through your decision-making process out loud so they can hear exactly what you take into account and how you actually go about making the decision.
Your next generation leader might also find it helpful to have a mentor – an experienced farm leader or small business leader who is willing to share their hard-won wisdom with a younger person. This doesn’t necessarily have to be you – in fact, it may be even more helpful if someone else is willing to mentor your future leader. But of course, your future leader will always benefit from you as a mentor, as well.
Plan it out
Most future farm leaders will learn best from a combination of some of the strategies I mentioned, and there are other things you can do to help them learn and grow, as well. You and your next generation can sit down together, discuss the ideas in this post, and create a plan together based on how they learn best and where they need to learn more.
One area where future leaders often want more training and learning opportunities is around the farm’s marketing and merchandising. Our market advisors help bring next generation leaders to the table for market planning, education and decision-making.