Who will succeed you as owner or manager of your feed and grain business? If you are like many owner/managers, this is a topic you may not have seriously considered — or it may be something you would prefer not to think about. It is a bit like facing your own mortality — but the reality is that this is something which should be given some very careful thought. Perhaps the most important sign of a great manager is the ability to transfer control to the next generations successfully — it takes a lot to make this happen. In this column we take a look at some approaches to grooming up-and-coming managers and to the topic of management succession.
Grooming the next generation of management
Peter Cappelli, management professor and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, states that it is not necessary for firms to groom specific people to become a manager — or, indeed, for any other specific position. He feels that it is best for companies simply to “develop people so that their skills continue to improve.” While we do not disagree at all, there is also some merit to developing an internal pool of talent — that you work with and develop with the specific intent of possibly “turning over the reins” at some point. To us, this is just good strategy and it seems especially important in small/medium-sized and family-owned businesses. Obviously the urgency here depends a bit on your age and future intentions — how long you want to work, and the age difference between you and some of these key employees. But, working to grow the capabilities of your employees is just good management at any time.
This process begins by making good hires (…as if you are consciously going to make a bad hire!). But the point here is to look for evidence of people-oriented traits — communication and problem solving skills, proof of leadership and ability to mediate. Some additional characteristics that can be used to identify talent within the workforce include the following: comfort with change; clarity of direction; thoroughness; participative management style; persuasiveness, persistence and discretion. These traits would seem to indicate that talented people are not necessarily extraordinary individuals. People can be groomed to enhance these characteristics and become more talented themselves. But hiring with an eye toward growth potential can go a long way in bringing the right kind of people into your organization. During the interview process, some prospective employees may fill the bill for the position as currently defined. Others you can see growing beyond the immediate position. In our experience, you rarely go wrong hiring the person with the potential.
Once those with potential have been identified, then give them some time in position and observe — again for the aforementioned traits. If things continue to look promising, now look for ways to “test their mettle.” Giving them special projects, assigning supervisory duties to them, and bringing them in on periodic discussions and decisions you undertake are all ways to strengthen their experience base and observe them in action.
You should also be on the lookout for training opportunities from which the identified individuals might benefit. Most states have an “Ag Leadership” program; these are great programs to put these protégées through, and may last several months or even a year, focusing on networking, communication, leadership and other very useful “soft” skills. They typically immerse the participant in a variety of activities designed to strengthen their skill set, as well educate them about the agriculture and agribusinesses of your state.
Give careful thought to the skills, background, and abilities of the individual. Talk with them about their goals, and look for training opportunities that help them grow. Suppliers offer a variety of training opportunities, and with just a bit of work, you can identify many other possibilities available through universities or organizations such as the American Management Association or the National AgriMarketing Association. Another source of good training for up-and-coming managers are programs offered by the Purdue Center for Food and Agricultural Business (see: www.agecon.purdue.edu/cab).