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Smooth farm transitions part one: Avoid stepping on toes

Working together yet apart during your transition plan keeps the peace.

Tim Schaefer, Founder

July 6, 2021

2 Min Read
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It was a fairly standard discussion around a pretty simple question. “Who is in charge of doing the books?” There was an awkward pause as both Mom and daughter look at each other but said nothing. After further discussion, it turns out there was a conflict because it wasn’t clear who was in charge of what inside the office. It wasn’t clear outside the office either.

When asked who was in charge of making the final agronomy decisions (during a private interview), the employee said that Jr. was, unless Dad came around. Then everyone listened to Dad because “He is the boss.” When I asked Jr., he said Dad made agronomy decisions. It appeared like everyone was confused of who was in charge of what.

Don’t get me wrong. These are really great people running very successful farms. It’s just that responsibilities get murky when there isn’t a clean handoff of duties during a transition plan.

The handoff of duties during a transition is often implied versus explicit. This leads to frustrations and sometimes hostility as people step on each other toes. Mom and Dad say they want to slow down a bit, but there isn’t clarity on what that means.

More than once, I have heard a farmer declare  “I only want to do the fun stuff.” Fair enough, he’s earned it. But what is the fun stuff? What responsibilities does Dad want to give up first? How does this handoff look? How is the next generation supposed to get up to speed?

Related:Farm Business on the Brink

One simple tool that works well is mapping out the areas of accountability via an Accountability Flow Chart. This chart shows all the work that needs to get done and who is solely responsible for getting it done. This chart is forward-looking and ensures that no work falls through the cracks. At first glance, it might look like an organization chart, but it’s built around the work areas instead of ownership titles. Not only that but only one person can be in charge of each work area. There is an old adage, “When two people are in charge no one’s accountable.”  

It’s not uncommon for farms to lose between 50-85% of long-term employees during transitions. Employees get confused about who they should be taking orders from. The result of this confusion is that many choose to leave. A benefit of the Accountability Flow Chart is that is can be shared with employees so everyone is on the same page.

Whether you use a flow chart or not, planning the handoff of duties will keep all generations off of each other’s toes. That’s a good thing.

If you would like an example of the Accountability Flow Chart drop me an email at [email protected] and I’ll send it over.

Related:Farm business planning: Tool for the times

Do you have questions on how to move ahead?  Click HERE to schedule a free short call with us.

About the Author(s)

Tim Schaefer

Founder, Encore Wealth Advisors

Tim Schaefer guides large, successful farm operations, helping them get and keep a competitive edge. His tools are peer groups via the Encore Executive Farmer Network, transition planning, business growth planning, and executive coaching. His print column, Transitions & Strategies, appears regularly in Farm Futures and online at He is a Certified Family Business Advisor, Certified Business Coach and Certified Financial Planner. Raised on a successful family farm, his first business venture was selling sweet corn door to door with an Oliver 70.

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