Good communication is of utmost importance when communicating with farm family members. Farm families face a unique challenge. They often times must work with family members in their farm business. This can be a bigger challenge than trying to figure out the markets and dealing with the weather that we experience in Minnesota. Some assumptions, both good and bad, are made when operating a business with a sibling, spouse, in-law or child.
Jolene Brown is an Iowa farmer and professional speaker who recently spoke at a convention in Minneapolis. Following are her "top ten" things that farm families do that can break up their businesses.
1: Assuming all genetic relationships equal good working relationships.
Just because you are related does not automatically mean that you can get along in a working relationship. Family members must ask themselves if they want this business to continue and then turn toward discussing the business mission and goals as well as individual goals and responsibilities.
2: Believing that the business can financially support any and all family members who want to work together.
The older generation must take care of themselves first. Younger generation members don't have to start out where the folks are now. A question to ask is "What benefits and anticipated results will the children bring to the team?"
3: Assuming others will/ should/must change and not me.
The older generation may have to take a look here. Younger generation members often bring enthusiasm and change to the farming operation. Try to be somewhat flexible when making decisions.
4. Presuming a conversation is a contract.
Several items show up here. Telling a son or daughter to "just work hard and someday this will all be yours," or, "Don't worry about your siblings. They love their jobs and are not interested in the farm business," are two ways to get into real trouble. Be sure to have a good plan in place for farm succession and work with an estate planner and communicate this plan to all parties so that there are no fights on the way to the funeral home.
5. Believing that mind-reading is an acceptable form of communication
All business partners are responsible for clear communication. Standards should be established for jobs so that everyone knows what is expected and who is responsible. Be approachable and praise in public and correct in private.
6. Failing to build communication skills and meeting tools when times are good so that they will be in place when times get tough.
Problems will come up and conflicts are normal. Being ready for this will help everyone discuss issues more clearly and less emotionally.
7. Ignoring the in-laws, off-site family and employees.
Discuss the expectations of spouse and in-laws in the business. These folks can be your biggest allies or the biggest enemies. Discuss future off-site family ownership in the business. Have a succession plan in place that everyone knows about.
8. Forgetting to use common courtesy.
Remember to routinely thank, praise and/or compliment each family member. It is as simple as that.
9. Having no legal and discussed estate transfer plan or buy/sell agreement in place.
One of the biggest pitfalls of all time. This can destroy families and lead to a lot of hard feelings. It's the parent's responsibility to list the assets, call an attorney, call the kids home, and only the kids, and let them hear from your lips what you have decided.
10. Failing to celebrate.
Too often we get caught up in all of the work on the farm and forget to celebrate being a family on the farm working together for a common goal. Schedule regular time off for everyone and use it.