Insights from our Recent Road Trip
A road trip is an amazing thing. You find that the destination does not matter as much as the journey itself… the “road” helps you embrace the unexpected, renew your faith in the world and broaden your mind (particularly following a very challenging year or few of weather events, pandemics and great uncertainty).
We felt most spontaneous on our road trip recently through the Darling Downs South West region in gorgeous Queensland. Of course, we had our plan, and we knew our purpose:
- To reach out to family businesses in the rural sector and provide information and support.
- To test our own Family Business Central impressions about the needs of families in business (both in Australia and New Zealand).
- To understand more about the concerns and issues facing families in business in this changing landscape.
- To gather information in a first of its kind survey to family businesses.
What we discovered was Mother Nature in all her glory, directing us to paths we had not planned and places we had rarely visited. We discovered the people we met intrigued us, informed us, and rejuvenated our Family Business Central values. We feel invigorated by this journey and wish to share some insights with you.
Our Top 3 Insights
- Individual family members see it differently.
- The In-Laws are family too.
- Succession. Succession.
The Trip Itself
Phil and I headed west from Brisbane in March to talk face to face with family businesses and farms to ‘hear from the horse’s mouth’ (pun intended) just how things were going for them.
It rained much of the time. And I mean, it really rained. There was almost dancing in the street out there as we ventured from town to town. The weather conversations were tinged with a newfound and long-awaited positivity about what the water meant for livelihood in the coming months.
The wildlife went crazy, and we spent much of our driving time trying to avoid the turtles, and frogs, and lizards attempting bravely to cross the roadway.
Crucial Thoughts Confirmed
Daily we reflected on the highlights and learnings. Clearly our conversations with families were the standout for us day after day. We wanted to hear their voice, expressing their concerns and hopes for the future and listening to what we could do to support them. We drank lots of tea and talked some more. The amazing thing we found was that even when chatting to people in the local coffee shop, almost everyone had, and has a personal story about a family business. Many a conversation was positive and hopeful. Many a chat was about opportunities lost, relationships gone awry, and legacy broken. Many conversations were wistful, and we felt with these connections that we were in the right place to support and assist.
As we have found in the past, if you get a bunch of family business people in the same room, they love talking and sharing stories. This was fantastic for us and those families who attended our workshops. Running a family business or farm is unique. It’s not the same as a ‘regular’ business and so, we could see for families in our workshops that even just chatting and connecting with others who ‘get it’ was worth their trip.
The big issue throughout our road trip was confirmed for us:
Succession. Succession planning. Transition to the next generation.
It’s All About Succession
Collectively we have discussed this for years in terms of how best to transition the family business to the next generation. Statistics around effective succession are not so good unfortunately. We have been involved in several research projects including a New Zealand Government backed project 2 years ago. There are just not many ‘how to’ answers out there, however we have discovered a number of interesting insights as a result of our Family Business Survey, that we will be exploring in detail with you in the coming months.
- One of the biggest worries for the Current Generation (those in their 30s, 40s, 50s who are seriously involved in the business but not yet leading the business) is… How to start and have the conversations with the Senior Generation?
- How do you start it?
- How do you manage it?
- How do you ensure it goes well and doesn’t end with people feeling upset, worried and left out?
Having several members of the Senior Generation (leaders/founders) in the room, we were able to ask them directly… In summary the answer was “Don’t put me out to Pasture”.
This is a big issue. One we will be writing to in greater detail as we pull the data together. The analysis is so very interesting, and we are confident to bring you more of the ‘how to’ in coming months.
We suspected that getting the Next Generation ready was a major worry for family businesses. Interestingly, this was not so on our road trip.
We’d like to test this with further trips, more conversations, and greater participation in our family business diagnostic survey from family businesses in Australia and New Zealand.
In essence, we discovered on our road trip, that amazing family businesses and farms want to build their legacy. They are and should be proud of their businesses, whether it is 1st or 4th generation. They all want to know how to have the conversations so that everyone is happy, and the business/farm can grow and thrive.
Conversation is King. Stay with us to hear more.
Family Business Survey Insights
We’d like to share with you our initial findings from the Family Business Survey that we asked everyone to complete while on our road trip. The results are amazing. In hindsight we should not have been surprised. What we discovered was a wealth and depth of information that we are excited to explore further with you.
Our major findings:
Individual family members see it differently!
- By having up to four family members complete our survey, we see remarkably different responses.
- This is by no means a terrible thing. Quite the opposite.
- We have greater insight into how best to assist with legacy growth, honesty, fairness, transparency, and solid family governance foundations.
The In-Laws are family too!
- It came as no surprise that In-Laws are worried.
- They are often in a tough situation; They can put their heart and soul, ‘blood, sweat and tears’ into the business and yet they still sometimes feel on the ‘outer’… not really included because they are not ‘blood’.
- Some feedback indicates that In-Laws may not feel fully trusted, fully utilised for their talents, or acknowledged for their contribution.
- There are no simple answers here, and in fact this is truly tricky at times. We are seeing more clearly that there is much to do in this space to ensure legacy, and future generation success. We are further identifying the ‘how to’
Succession. Succession. Succession.
- The diagnostic survey is backing up our conversations!
- Successful succession (try saying that three times in quick succession!) is at the forefront of most of the family’s minds. Whether it is the conversations/communication between the senior generation and others, getting the next generation ready… or even just having a plan in place – we need to get started.
- Remember nothing needs to be done or changed right now.
- Everyone will feel more comfortable knowing there is some kind of a plan in place for the future.
- There are many questions we can ask to help you work through what is happing now and what may happen next.
We will be following up on these three top findings and the others we have drawn from our initial analysis. These are exciting times in family business development, and we will be sharing it all with you.
Our advice… Get involved. Contact us.
The great thing is each family will receive feedback from the survey individually. We have industry insights coming and have further support and services planned to help you build family business legacy.
As we move through Autumn and into Winter, and hopefully back to a more ‘normal’ life, it is an opportunity to think through some of these issues with your family and your business. These are incredibly important issues, they may not be the easiest to talk about, which is why we are here.
The good news: Communication is King. Talking about this stuff is not as bad as most people think and it is and is so worth it for peace of mind and a good night’s sleep.
So call us! We’d love to chat to you further about these important issues.