Grains Research and Development

Date: 10.02.2015

An agricultural consultant's role in business continuance

Author: Judy Wilkinson (Business Continuance and Communication in Farming Families)

Take home message

  • If you remain neutral and refrain from making judgment or offering advice, it is likely that you will leave people in a better place than you found them.
  • One person – one crucial conversation – one at a time.

Introduction

I consider that a majority of advisers especially agronomists ‘work at the coal face’, in that they see clients regularly and are often in situations where they understand what is going on in a business and a family.  

For example:

  • They see who is communicating with whom.
  • Recognise or witness discontent.
  • Realise who are not engaging.
  • Understand the mental health of those involved.
  • Know who is driving the business.
  • Understand who is hindering the business.

Recognising what is happening in a business and seeing what actions may have negative impacts, can provide an opportunity to make some changes. Sometimes people exterior to the business itself may have a better insight and understanding of this and be in a position to raise others’ awareness.

Advisers may be in a position to influence the situation. They could ask questions about the situation, make some suggestions or recommendations and encourage people to do some discussion and planning around the future of their business.

In a farming year, there can be times where discussion may be around rotation and cropping plans and these could be an opportunity for consultants to ask questions about the long term plans, not only for the farming practices but also about the future of the business.

This may prove to be beneficial to the business you are working with, and also to your own business, ascertaining the future of the client as a future customer. It may also be the trigger that gives you an opportunity to think about the succession of your own business (dependent on your age or future plans).

Some consultants may feel a reservation or hesitation about discussing succession with their clients, fearful of upsetting or making the situation worse.  

It may be useful when engaging in discussion to:

  • State up front that it is not your area of expertise
  • Have some people/contacts you can recommend who can help
  • Listen without trying to find a solution
  • Remain neutral in the situation (do not take sides)
  • Encourage conversations with other professionals.

If you remain neutral and refrain from making judgment or offering advice, it is unlikely that you will leave people in a worse place than you found them (this can often be a real concern about getting into something you are unsure about).

There are key times when families need to think and talk about succession, i.e. entry (births, marriages, and children returning to work) and exits (death, divorce, discontent and disasters).

The role we can play in family farming businesses by being the conduit for crucial conversations can have positive long term effects, helping to make businesses stronger and more productive.

What is a crucial conversation?

A crucial conversation has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Opinions vary
  • Stakes are high
  • Emotions run high
  • It's important to find a solution, resolution or an agreed outcome

We often find excuses not to have these conversations.

Mastering crucial conversations

Things we can try:

  • Dialogue – free flow of meaning between two or more people.
  • Listen.
  • Share the air.
  • Never make a personal attack.
  • Check assumptions.
  • What is the real issue?  
  • How can it be dealt with?
  • Offer encouragement and kindness.
  • Practice tolerance.
  • When you blow it admit it?
  • Don’t expect perfection, aim for progress.

Conclusion

As agriculture professionals we can help those businesses we work with to master their high stake discussions and strengthen business and family.

One person – one crucial conversation – one at a time.

Contact details

Judy Wilkinson
PO Box 121, Snowtown, SA, 5520
0401122049
judy@marocreek.com