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Dr. David M. KohlBy Dr. David Kohl

In the course of my travels and seminars across the country, I often hear the phrase “I can’t do” concluded with various endings. Comments such as “but my business is different,” or “I don’t have the time” come up frequently in conversations. Well, especially in challenging times, it is important to find ways to turn your “can’t do” into “can do.”

One important tool for any operation is a cash flow for the business. Many times producers say to me that there is too much uncertainty in prices, cost and weather to develop a business cash flow. My response is to instead conduct a scenario planning exercise. Specifically, develop assumptions on price, cost and expense estimates with different production outcomes. In the past, cash flow statements could quickly become obsolete, but that is because they were conducted and developed on paper. Today, with computerized spreadsheets, either personal or commercial, a cash flow can be a tremendous tool in navigating your business through uncertain economic times.

Another “can’t do” perspective often involves the younger generation’s return to the business. Before entering the business, young people need to experience different places, cultures, opportunities and ideas. This not only broadens one’s perspective but can also help determine commitment and interest levels. I sometimes hear the senior generation deject the notion of a few years away commenting, “They may never come back,” or “You will lose your best worker,” or “What will we do now?” Turning this around, the “can do” approach may sound something like “Time away allows them to experience and learn how other businesses run,” or “They will learn real-world responsibility.” This freedom allows young people to build their self-confidence, credibility and accountability, which will benefit the business in the future. In addition, those continuing the business at home can use the time to adjust business strategy and create a better business culture to attract and retain the younger generation.

I often encounter another “can’t do” approach in estate and transition planning. For example, the younger generation says, “We can’t get the senior generation to conduct transition planning or communicate what the estate plan entails.” The senior generation may resist the sharing of official plans and documents complaining that the younger generation just wants to know what they get. Well, business success depends on clear communication from both sides and this is a common frustration among family businesses. Remember that while an estate plan is critical in dividing assets upon one’s death, a transition plan is something more. The quick turnaround approach to this issue is the “drop dead exercise.” Place the names of all business owners and stakeholders on pieces of paper and place them in a container. Randomly pick a name and conduct the meeting as if that person was dead, and of course, a dead person speaking is against the rules. This is a quick jumpstart for the entire transition process. The “can do” approach to the overall process is to hire a facilitator that establishes timelines, deadlines and work assignments so that management, assets and ownership can transition in orderly and timely fashions. It is true that hiring a transition facilitator will require time and money. However, those that do not invest in this process will likely still pay the money but to governments and high-priced attorneys and accountants that must sort through a complicated mess.

Time is one of our most valuable elements. Prioritizing time absolutely calls for the “can do” approach. Perhaps you have heard, “I don’t have time to go to another little league game,” or “I’m too busy to take vacation or attend that conference.” Elder generations sometimes used these phrases as a rally cry for long hours without regard for a work and life balance. In the future, prioritizing time for educational events and knowledgeable information will be the competitive edge in business. Fulfilling the responsibilities of raising children and grandchildren, as well as mentoring youth will be critical in life’s equation. Often producers tell me the best crop they ever raised was their children. Taking time to teach life skills is the way to deliver your family and business legacy to the next generation.

Whether it is financials, marketing and risk management, business transition, or just life in general, it is very easy to get caught up in the “can’t do” approach. If this happens, remember to stop and take the challenge from the opposite side. Strategize a plan and map a course to the “can do” side of the equation.

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