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A family farm without conflict is a unicorn

Business Basics: Create a business structure that reduces squabbles and boosts performance.

May 28, 2024

3 Min Read
Couple arguing on a farm
DISAGREEMENTS HAPPEN: Families that work together can stay together, if they treat the farm as a business. There needs to be clear lines of communication, responsibility and accountability for dads and daughters to agree. shotbydave/Getty Images

by Wesley Tucker

Years ago, I complimented a senior 4-H specialist on how thorough and detailed their county fair guidelines were.

He informed me that most of those policies had been created “after” a significant conflict. He said, “Life could have been a lot smoother if someone handed me this on my first day.”

Our family farm businesses are a lot like that. However, proactive measures such as job descriptions, organizational charts and accountability can save us from conflict.

Maybe your family is the unicorn, and everything runs smoothly all the time, but I have yet to see a family business that doesn’t face issues. Often there are disagreements about who does what, who works harder, or who gets paid more.

It may not come out in those exact words, but it’s more like: “Why does he or she get to leave to watch their child play ball every other afternoon or take vacations while I’m the responsible one staying here holding it all together?”

To me, family farm business is a team competition. We succeed or fail as a team. So open communication and ongoing evaluations should not be something that is feared. It helps us make progress. See it as an opportunity to grow stronger as a family and a business.

Here are some practical strategies to minimize conflict and enhance family business performance:

Related:10 steps to build a strategic plan

Job descriptions. I’d guess 95% of farmers don’t believe they need job descriptions. After all, we talk every Monday morning about what needs to be done. But taking the time to list out all the items someone is accountable for helps clarify expectations for each role. A job description should include:

  1. Core duties. Provide a concise description of essential functions with bulleted lists of responsibilities.

  2. Qualifications. List the skills and experience required to perform the duties of the position.

  3. Work schedule. Clearly define when the employee is expected to work — whether it’s specific hours, days or shifts.

  4. Compensation. Specify how the employee will be compensated, including salary, hourly wages, bonuses, or other benefits such as a house to live in, free beef or a truck to use.

  5. Reporting structure. Clarify who the employee reports to within the business.

  6. Evaluation criteria. Describe how the employee’s performance will be evaluated and measured.

To be honest, a job description is really to protect the worker. How can you evaluate my performance if what I was expected to accomplish is not clearly defined?

Organizational chart. Whether you call it a flow chart, organizational chart, decision-making tree or some other creative name, every farm needs a visual representation of its management structure.

Related:Not fair: Dad split the farm equally between all my siblings

Too often in family businesses, the overlap of business and family relationships clouds the decision-making process. No one really knows what decisions they have authority to make and who is in charge of each area: What can I do when my nephew says he doesn’t answer to me? I’m not his boss; his father is.

This simple tool can help provide clarity and prevent many conflicts before they arise.

Accountability measures. Accountability should not be feared. On the farm, there are many people doing many tasks. Often our goals are unmet. Sometimes we need one person to lead a specific project and drive it to completion.

Consider having team members provide progress reports at the next family business meeting. Each person can offer opportunities, obstacles and suggestions of what they need from the rest of the team. Remember, treating a family business like a team competition allows you to grow stronger together.

While we may not think we need things like job descriptions, organizational charts or accountability, these make us stronger and ultimately protect our family relationships.

Tucker is a University of Missouri Extension ag business specialist, succession planner and national conference speaker. He can be reached at [email protected] or 417-326-4916.

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