Communicate to Compete

May 25, 2018 08:30 AM

Discussions across generations can improve your business plans

Family businesses often have a strong culture that originates with the founder. But if core values are not communicated properly, the business could become stagnant or, worse, dysfunctional. 

New research suggests agriculture isn’t immune from this threat: 54% of Midwest family farms are moderately dysfunctional when communicating about culture, according to two sets of survey data from the Purdue Initiative for Family Firms. 

“I don’t know if farm businesses and agribusinesses are more honest about how functional they are, or if that’s just the agribusiness component where the farm and the family are so closely tied that it often is brought home,” says Renee Wiatt, senior research associate for the Purdue Initiative for Family Firms.

The survey can also help spur conversations, says Maria Marshall, director of the Purdue initiative. 

“One person might feel like they’re really dysfunctional in terms of communicating or feeling that they’re heard. Usually that’s the second or junior generation,” Marshall says. “You might have [a case] where somebody feels like the decisions being made aren’t exactly what they would be hoping for, and that might be the senior generation.” 

Stakeholders often put off conversation because of the fear of disagreement, says Sarah Beth Aubrey, founder of Aubrey Coaching and Training. Getting over that fear is necessary for strategic planning. 

“Their definitions of core values, future vision and their place in it are not going to be the same, and it’s fine if they’re not,” Aubrey says. To teach emerging leaders, involve them in decision-making, she advises.  


Tips for Finding A Communications Foothold

It’s not uncommon for younger members of a farm operation to feel unheard when they present ideas for change. As an emerging farm leader, you can take several steps to start making a difference, says Sarah Beth Aubrey, a family business consultant and author.

“Those who have experience don’t like for someone who’s younger than them to say, ‘Because we just have to do it,’” she says. “That’s not a good enough reason.” 

The first step is to do your homework, Aubrey says. Demonstrate why the change you want to make can be valuable to the operation, and be upfront about sharing those details. 

Next, ask to spearhead a project and take ownership of it. Be open to supervision and input, but also make sure you can demonstrate your ability to do well and add responsibilities as you learn. Work on these objectives regularly to develop leadership muscles.


This article was originally featured in the May 2017 issue of Top Producer. 

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