I was talking with neighbours the other day whose parents had finalised their succession planning. For the first time in ages, they were relaxed, smiling and enjoying the freedom that comes from being in control.

However, In the next breath they said: “Now, we have to do it all over again”.

Unfortunately, they already feel like they are playing catch up. Having lived through the ordeal of farm succession planning they understand the importance of starting early. They have children in their 20s wanting to work in the business, with a plan to take over when the time is right.

We talked about how understandable it is for the husband to want to be in charge for a while as he is in his 50s, has worked the property his whole life, and waited a long time for this opportunity to do things his way. His wife too is relishing the moment.

Although they have taken on significant debt, they are the happiest they’ve been in a long time.

And why?

Because for the first time they feel in control and you can’t put a price on that. There is no malice when they speak of their situation. They are matter of fact. They know their parents (and in-laws) were doing what they thought best. But the reality is, like so many, they did it tough.

I am not talking about money. Although at times they struggled. Emotionally, they put up with a lot. Everyone deserves to feel loved and valued. It’s as simple as that.

So how do they learn from past and do things differently for their children?

The good news is they already are

They talk to their children and involve them in the business. They prepare budgets, have meetings and talk openly about the current situation and future goals of the business and the individual members of the family.

That’s leadership. And that’s what creates harmony.

They don’t focus on who has control of what assets. Because the parents know from personal experience how much conflict, stress and sadness that causes. They focus on what is needed to create a viable business in the longer-term. They talk to each other about what is possible right now and what could be done in the future.

No-one will get everything they would like, but because they each feel included and valued they are OK with knowing that.

Not all the children want to return to the farm.

Eventually the family will sort out the next generation’s succession plan. By focusing on the people and the personal relationships they have a strong family unit.

It can’t be done right now and the children are fine with that because they know their family is in the minority and appreciate their parent’s efforts. They also understand that fair cannot mean equal.

But they have made a start by talking about … something many families do not do.