Solving the farm succession puzzle takes teamwork

A rule of thumb in life is that things are generally simpler than they first appear.

We tend to overthink or make things more complicated than necessary.

However, this is not the case when it comes to succession planning.

Over the years I have come to realize that succession planning is a three-dimensional puzzle, much like the Rubik’s Cube.

I have learned a few keys to solving the succession-planning puzzle that may make it a little easier.

Know and follow the process

If you are one of the few people who can actually solve a Rubik’s Cube, you have discovered that the trick is to learn to apply a process. You can’t just solve one side at a time; you must solve all the sides together. The same can be said of succession planning.

I look at a farm business as having three overlapping and interdependent circles: business, ownership and family. They cannot be separated from one another.

No single issue can be resolved without taking into account all others. Like the Rubik’s Cube, everything is connected to everything. That’s why you need a process that takes all three circles into account to build your plan.

Holistic solutions

The second key is that you have to be holistic. Because everything is interconnected, solving one problem will create several others. This is normal, and while it can be frustrating, an experienced adviser will see the connections, anticipate the new issues and help you keep an eye on all three dimensions.

Most of us can get one side of a Rubik’s Cube the right color, but then we move to the next colour, solve it and discover that the first colour is now all jumbled. That’s exactly what succession planning can feel like without a process, and the outcome is similar too: an incomplete plan or an even worse mess.

Start with the end in mind

You have a clear goal in mind when you start a Rubik’s Cube, typically to finish with six sides comprising one colour each.

If you didn’t have that goal, you wouldn’t know what moves to make or know when you were finished. Succession planning is no different.

The first thing you must do is not figure out the next move or, in fact, any moves.

Your first priority is to describe for the family and the advisers what you want the finished puzzle to look like. You need to talk to everyone involved to learn their preferred outcomes and get that written down before you start the plan.

Succession planning a team sport

Today we recognize the complexity of succession planning and that there isn’t one person who can meet all the needs of the process. It takes a team.

However, like the Rubik’s Cube, if each person specializes in one colour and works alone, you will finish with just one side of the cube solved but the not the rest.

Instead, team members must work as a unit to recognize the other issues that their solution may cause and work together to find big picture solutions that serve the greater goals.

The team must work as one, communicating and collaborating toward the goal. That’s why teams are so effective. You should expect nothing less for your life’s work.

This is where I think effective succession planning excels. At its core, it is about building a team that can build a succession plan that takes into account all three circles, and it begins by defining the end goals.

With the right strategy and proper planning, solving the succession-planning puzzle doesn’t have to seem impossible.

Jonathan Small is a partner in MNP’s Farm Management Consulting practice in Red Deer, Alta. He can be reached at 1.403.356.1281 or

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