Jim Soldan, principal and trainer with THE FAMILY FURROW / THE CANADIAN FAMILY BUSINESS INSTITUTE helps families and partners in business not merely survive but grow and thrive with healthy relationships, which are the hall marks of truly successful businesses. Their work centres on communication training, succession planning, conflict management and building your Foundation, which results in an 'Operative and Maintenance Manual' for YOUR family farm.

The following articles originally appeared in BC Holstein News.

May 15, 2012


...Top 12 Communication tips for the Family Farm

The number one contributing factor to problems in a family farm business is 'poor communication.' 'Communication', is so strongly presented as most necessary and important, and yet, in reality, is so lacking in the lives of many family farm business team members. There is far to much 'assumption' that says ... "because we are family, they should know what I am thinking" and "we are far to busy to sit around and talk." We are talking about something far greater then idle chatting or informal discussion about nothing or to the depth of sports and or weather. Sharing discussion together, as a team, regarding who does what and how and when and what is ahead and how that will affect what and when we have to do it, is VITAL to the success of your production and family relationships. Effective Communication is the 'fuel' for the engine (the team of people that work together) of your family farm business.

The following is a 'bare' outline of what we consider essential 'guidelines' for effective communication within the family farm team...

  1. Establish a 'FRAMEWORK' that defines how we will relate to one another, clearly indicating what is acceptable and what is not and the consequences thereof. You will have established, as a collective team, such parameters as or for: trust, honesty, accountability / consequence, code of conduct, needs and goals, to name a few. Overall, these are rules WE abide by; being family does not give one an excuse for poor behaviour.
  2. Make it 'OUR FAMILY FARM policy' ... we do 'communication' on our family farm; it is a vital part of our production and living / working together program. It is given top priority, along side production demands.
  3. Take an 'ACTIVE INTEREST' in the lives of your fellow team members; showing you care by encouraging others to talk about themselves as you share your own trials and triumphs in your life and the workings of your family farm business.
  4. Develop a heart (a strong desire) to 'LISTEN'; paying attention to both the content (the words spoken) and the emotion (the feelings that are being expressed) and acknowledge both in your response.
  5. Present POSITIVE BODY LANGUAGE. Demonstrate you are 'in' the discussion / conversation. Disassociation is not an option as long as you are part of the team. Be an active listener; "eye ball to eyeball and knee cap to knee cap". Limit or be cautious with the use of email / text messaging.
  6. Hold formal MEETINGS. Commit to the following guidelines. Regular (just as you do for your herd health checks, equipment servicing and your milk equipment wash). Would you even consider missing a wash cycle in your milking program? Planned; the meetings are scheduled, have an agenda and are recorded, detailing commitments and responsibilities.
  7. Ensure SUFFICIENT time to complete ALL discussions. If one seeks to talk and it comes at an inappropriate time for you, establish a time between yourselves, in the very near future. This demonstrates your commitment to your 'Family Built' policy on the importance of communication.
  8. Always seek first to UNDERSTAND, then to be understood (Stephan Covey's 5th habit) what the other is saying to you, considering both the content of the statements and the emotion behind them, before presenting your point, or response.
  9. Always put forth YOUR STATEMENTS of understanding regarding the issue or circumstance, instead of condemnation. Use .. When I see this and that, I feel this way." When I hear ___________," I feel _________."
  10. DOCUMENT statements and clarify understandings before recording. Record all spoken words and understandings involving issues that relate to living and working relationships, ownership and management details.
  11. CEASE from blaming; remember, there are three fingers pointing back at yourself, as you point at another. Try as hard as you wish, one cannot change yesterday. Resolve to go from today, with discussed and documented accountability and consequence. Start now, today, and go forward.
  12. Transform your thinking from ME, MINE, MY to WE, US, OURS, in everything you think, say and do as it relates to the family farm business.

Because of the uniqueness of family farm business (living, working, eating) together, and going and coming at different times, throw in the seasonal challenges, production timetables, spouses off farm work, and 'character' challenges, can see clearly the reason for communication guidelines in family farm business.

August 31, 2012

The Next Chapter of your Family Farm Business life

... 'what' after farming?

Mom and Dad in dialogue... Mom says to Dad "so what do we do?" Dad says "What do you mean?" Mom responds ... "I'm done doing the books, and feeding calves and the grandkids are too far away to baby sit ... why do YOU still have to be so involved?" "Because it's my life", Dad responds. And Mom, in anguish says .."I sit here in this big house by myself so much, I want to do the things we dreamed about, and I want to do them with you ..." To that Dad responds "I have to go to the bank, the boys want to buy a tractor, then I have to look after the heifers." Not exactly what everyone is experiencing, and yet not far from reality for many on the family farm when we examine our family business lives.

In this article, I want to focus on the senior generation. However this applies to wherever you are in your life's family farm journey. How will you write the Last Chapter in YOUR book? When we go through life on our family farms without thoughtful consideration toward those years when we are no longer totally actively farming... it is like reading the book of life' without turning the pages! What will your legacy say? Will it be viewed with fond regard and respect by all, or forgotten because of the pain it left in its wake!

As we pour the FOUNDATION of our family farm business when we start, we most often forget, or give it no heed regarding this inevitable point in our lives. THe point when... we are not actively farming anymore, or don't have to. Planning the last chapter of our lives ought to be in the original foundation process and built upon year after year, but unfortunately, it usually does not happen for most.

I have outlined a dozen 'areas' to help you see more clearly how one, in their movement toward no more 'working the farm' ought to proceed ... if we want to leave a solid and desirable legacy and meet our personal goals and desires. It is worthy to remember that unless we create the 'balance' in our life, we will end up walking crooked. And if we walk 'crooked' long enough, we will react with amazement and anger when our spouse says "this is not working: this is not what I worked for all those years."

For many of us in a family farm business, we fail in looking ahead as to how we will live out our years when we are not actively farming.

The following are some pointed suggestions of what we ought to be doing as we look ahead to those years where, God willing, we will have time and money on our hand, but just cannot let go of 'doing' business ... often at peril to ourselves, our spouse and our children.

We must include our whole family farm team in this planning activity if we are to realize a successful 'letting go'. Talk about the time of change from when active full time participation will cease as you turn to a new chapter in your life 'book'. Make a plan, and write it down with those around us in our family business, for our upcoming senior years. Now certainly there are exceptions to any rule, and there may be only one or two points that apply to you. Which every point(s) strike home for you, take it and make the necessary movement. Weather the 'desires' to actively farm are big or small, most farmers have a hard time to back away and do something else, of what has become their life and identity. Though I am speaking here to both husband and wife, much of the direction is to the husband.

  1. Start planning now, for that time when you OUGHT not to be actively involved in the family farm business, with the same diligence as you put into planning the new barn or robotic milk system, or equipment purchase. As difficult as it maybe (if you are a senior now), or far from your mind (if you are a junior), we would do well to incorporate this needed activity into our planning as we travel our family business road day by day. Start now, start today!
  2. Do something you have always wanted to but did not have the time or money before; this will only happen if you plan for it. And a plan must be written down ... in YOUR family farm business manual!
  3. Start long before you are 'detached from production'. Give yourself and your spouse something to look forward to, and at a time where there will still be energy and health to carry it out. Deciding to start doing less and traveling at 75 often just does not cut it ... eyes get bad, reactions are slower and need I say more. But you say, "I just cut 75 acres of hay, certainly I can drive!!" Sure you can, but any joy had is overcome by fear in your spouse as you throttle down the field near the drainage ditches!
  4. Start changing your 'mind-set' from working hard with your hands to working more in sharing your wisdom with your junior generation family business team members and spending time together with your spouse, cultivating shared activities.
  5. Share your desires of what you would like to do, in later life, with your family and family farm business team members. The family farm business ought to be a means to an end and not an end in itself.
  6. Share with your loved ones in your family business team where you can see yourself, or as they see you, having trouble to make the transition to a non-farm active status. Family members can be helpful when they understand a person's interest more clearly and the issues they struggle with.
  7. Stay connected to your spouse. That takes purposeful and regular nurturing. It takes regular time away together, starting small when you are 'young' in your multi generational family farm business and the gradually increasing in duration as you advance in your senior years.
  8. Stay involved in the family farm business as an advisor, and not as a king. Use the time now, in your senior years, to nurture the younger generation with your wisdom. And a 'wisdom' that is now about the 'why' and not exclusively what, how, where and when.
  9. Stay actively / physically involved only to extent that you desire, and my I quickly add, that it is acceptable to your spouse and is measured by balance.
  10. Stay on good terms with your all your family members (the younger generation), and not just with those that are in the business or those that are off site.
  11. Savour your senior years by taking the time to now share your primary productive agricultural wisdom with young generation farmers or farmers in other parts of the world. Our young farmers today need a lot of 'practical' mentoring. Farming is not just production, nor can production over ride all the other areas in the overall management of the family farm business. We just may be entering a time where there ought to be more discussion, on every individual farm, as to ... What if ...?? There needs to more mentoring on the 'why'.
  12. Stay focused on the road ahead of you, while minding the road before you. If you never look up and see the road ahead (yes, one day you will be unable to physically 'take on the farm'. If you wait till that happens, the last chapter you write will not want to be read!
  13. Stay balanced ... there will come a time when you will not be able to 'work' the farm ... you will only have peace, and leave a strong family business legacy, if you learn early to balance work with family time. The mind set has to be BALANCE in life.

As you can see, these points take effort and thought and the sooner you start, the sooner you will realize a true balance in life and the meaning of balance in your family and family business life. And why do I say so strongly to plan for this critical milestone in your life? Because we don't want to wake up one day, in our senior years and say ... this is not what I wanted, and this is not good!" Here's hoping your harvest is going well and you are prepared for the rainy season.

OCTOBER 31, 2012

What 'GIFT' will you give your Family Business Team this Christmas

... The GIFT that lasts for generations

Heart felt wishes for a happy and joyous Christmas for you and your family, from the team at THE FAMILY FURROW. May the New Year grant you a balance of trials and triumphs..trials to keep us humble and triumphs to allow us to still have reason to smile. As we enter this special time of the year, Christmas, let us reflect on its meaning and truly give a gift that lasts forever, and be thankful for what we have.

Your family farm team, the ones you work with every day, day in and day out, are the most precious component of your business... without the help and support and wisdom and genuine care and and and. I could go on a lot more, of each other, where would we be? Where would the business be?

As we ponder the true meaning of Christmas and the giving of gifts, let us reflect on what is truly important in the lives of the ones we live and work with. We live in a time and a place where we lack no material necessity. We lack nothing in terms of 'need'. Hear what I have said ... we lack no material need. It is so important to look around ourselves and differentiate between legitimate 'need' and 'want'. For the most part, nearly all of us here in NA lack no 'material' necessity.

Yet, at Christmas time, we usually think of 'material' gifts. Make this year a year of difference in terms of gift giving in your family business; a year where we gave a gift that lasts for generations. We hear it all the time and often say it ourselves ... "He, she, they have everything. They need nothing. What could we possible buy for them?" And do we stop and consider how these 'material gifts' wear out; batteries go dead, they break and fall apart, they stop working and the list goes on and on. Let us not hid behind colored ribbons and paper and look right into ourselves - what is our 'bodily' presentation one to the other in our family business team? Is it not time to wrap ourselves in the wrappings of such 'gifts'' as truth, respect, love, good will, honest, trust and commitment to name a few?

It's time to talk about 'non material things' as gifts, where the batteries will not fail, rust will not set in and they won't wear out ... because they are built on changed hearts, realizations that convict change and the strong desire for real success. As we have noted before in previous articles, true success is a product of several factors, mainly, harmony, profit, fun and leave a positive legacy.

You and your family may not have this at the present, but its time to objectively examine yourselves and begin a process of change. As we most generally have multi-generations working and living together, and as we reflect on the giving of gifts, what are the gifts that when given, will last for generations? They are gifts of virtue! Conditions of the character that mould and direct all interactions amongst the family business team members.

There are many virtues, too many to list here. The following are some key virtues that are so often absent in family business. When these 'gifts' are given, cultivated and taught . ...will last a life time and transcend generations! You will need a big sock, because there are a good bunch here. Here we go, for this Christmas, give the gifts of 'virtue' of:

  1. Trust - Having confidence that the right thing will be come about without trying to control it or make it happen; having confidence in your team members
  2. Respect - a disposition of honoring others and self through our words and actions; we treat the others of our family business team, and extended family, with courtesy and worth
  3. Truthfulness - truth is a key building block in the family business foundation; all other virtues are built on this virtue; it is honesty in action in all situations and relationships
  4. Patience - taking on an attitude of hope and faith, in times of slow resolve or anxiousness, as we experience the effect of others' actions and inactions, on ourselves
  5. Understanding - being keenly aware and considerate of others ideas and feelings and taking these into our formula of resolve in daily living and working relationship with those we live and work with
  6. Genuine solid kindness - paying a special attention that fills the other with confidence, happiness, and acceptance
  7. Forgiveness - letting go of all resentment against another, for a wrong done to us or to those we love, and against ourselves; to cease to be angry or bitter against another
  8. Generosity - opposite of greed; free from being cruel, mean or inconsiderate; believing there is enough for all and willing completely to share. Beware of the crater you will fall into when you withhold from others, of especially your excess, and not even use it or have need of it for yourself, leaving it to waste.
  9. Reliable - can be counted on to follow through on our stated action or inaction; can be considered trustworthy
  10. Good Faith - it is a relationship of trust, truthfulness; where our 'acts' and our 'words' parallel
  11. Fairness - doing what is right regardless of situation, circumstance, or obstacles, that justice would be done, that everyone's needs are met
  12. Tolerance - the art and character of being accepting of differences, without judgement; accepting things that are different from our standard of acceptance, with peaceable response. 'Preference' is no reason tog o to ware over!

These gifts of 'virtue' are kept from tarnish by the purposeful formal coming together (meetings) where they are expressed, experienced and upheld within the team body.

These are the 'gifts' that will:

The giving of these gifts lays the foundation where we can talk, live and work together ... without blaming, without stomping out, without going into a rage, without saying "I'm outa here, and realize true family business success.

Yes, these can 'wear out' or be taken advantage of and ultimately lost from an individual; thus the reason to build them into our family business "Foundation."

We, at The Family Furrow lead families through an awareness and training process that develops a "Foundation" that has incorporated into itself the bricks of 'non material' gifts. Upon this foundation, your family and family business will be able to build a family and business that will stand the test of time, spanning one generation to the next. Contact us and we will send you the entire list of virtues .. those priceless qualities of 'gifts' that will not wear out from generation to generation.

Give the gift that lasts for generations ... a commitment to harmony; a key ingredient for success. One farm family member speaks. "My grandparents are passed on and my parents are not actively involved in the farm anymore, but their dreams and principles for harmony among us brothers carry on." One thing remains, relationships and understanding, even after farms and cows are gone.

Jan.10, 2011

'12 Rules For Family Farm Business that ought to be 'cleared' before take-off'

... follow through or burn on the runway!

A new year has begun and we are right back into our dreams and schemes of our Family Farm Business. This is a perfect time, as there probably is still some snow on the ground and things are not totally busy, to quickly 'do a service check' on ourselves as a working team. The following are crisp statements on farming with family. Consider the points below, addressing them to each other, to see if in fact you are ready for take off into this new year, as a family business. I direct these to families who are in the start to early phase of beginning to work with adult children, although these statements are applicable as well to any stage you may be at. As you read these through, put yourself in the 'frame of mind' as "I am just one of a group"... of four, or six, or eight or ten, or even more. You are not in the business as a lone ranger. What you do and say has have a dramatic effect on everyone around you.

  1. Family farm business isn't about getting your own way ... at the expense of the rest of the family, or as we have heard so many times, "my way or the highway"! Necessary is the need to practice give and take, patience, and understanding of others' views, self-denial and forgiveness, to name a few. If you want to 'do your own thing', it would be better for all concerned if you went off on your own, away from the family, like provinces away.
  2. Getting involved in the family business allows you to 'step into the harness' and take on the task of being a working team member, giving you the opportunity to mature as a contributing member of the team. It's a time to put aside childish attitudes and habits and accept your role as an adult and as an effective family business team member. It's a time to be authentic; that you present who you really are ... its not a time to fool yourself or those around you. If you are in it just for the wealth, or prestige, or ease of employment it would be better to go up and work in the oil patch.
  3. Leaders must not duck their responsibility to lead. Being in 'charge' or the 'boss man' carries responsibilities that go far far beyond signing the check. Key here is to provide guidance and direction of substance and manner that will yield true success (a product of profit and harmony). Good leaders are those who know how to and when to pass the torch on to the next generation before you have one foot in the grave and the other on the head of your 45 year old 'boy' who has had his creativity crushed.
  4. Truth does matter; contrary to some who say that there is no objective truth, and what is truth for one is not truth for another. I am talking foundational truth, truth that is backed up by a word spoken, albeit not written down, written word that can be verified, documents witnessed and intentions presented, by action or deed. Are you a good leader? Are you a good team player? Do you really contribute to the well being of the family and family business or are you just a 'taker' and a 'talker'? Have you followed through with promises and or intent? Assesses yourself? No. do yourself a favor and all those around you in your family business, and seek an assessment of yourself from someone who has no fear of speaking to you as they see you, in how you are with your family and business team.
  5. Do you come with or have you got the commitment necessary for the long haul that is required in family business? Family business can best be summed up with the word commitment. It is time to replace the term "I'm outta here with the phrase "I'm committed" to this team and family business. Non-interaction as a team member must not be an option! Flying the coop is easy and makes lawyers happy and well fed; pecking with chickens takes character. Successful family business takes real hard work and hard work is the fruit of commitment. And that's a good thing! We need more hard work in every aspect of life contrary to what many think and that being ... just do enough to get by! The excitement will wear off, and doing chores can become boring and has the tendency to overshadow all the good of being part of a family business. Do you have what it takes? Do you have what it takes to be a team player? Commitment arises from a spirit of gratefulness. Are you grateful for the opportunity presented to you to be part of (usually) a business that spanned generations? Are you grateful for the young, new and fresh ideas that come from an uncrushed spirit? Are you grateful for the wisdom that came from years of experience, tested and tried over many years? Do you genuinely show your gratitude?
  6. Character counts. It is and always will be that character quotient (CQ) not intelligence (IQ) that will secure your future as a successful family business team player and enable you to establish and maintain a successful family business. And true character starts in the heart! If your heart is not right, no action will lead to lasting change, unless the heart changes.
  7. It's a team affair. And I don't only mean just the workers ...where wives are working in the home rearing children, and often not considered part of the team. I mean the husband and wife teams. Teammanship must start and exist in the home, between husband and wife first before there can be a successful family business team. Are you on the same page with your spouse?
  8. Material 'things' will never satisfy the hunger in your heart. When is enough enough? Collectively arrived at Goals, that spell out objectives and future 'states' (that family and business would like to be at) are an important part of maintaining a balance in the family and the business and overall survival of the family and business.
  9. The family business team and the family business needs to 'govern' itself and to be 'governed'. Without guidelines and procedures for team member interaction, operative procedures and establishment of family and business values, conflict, confusion and gross inefficiencies quickly develop. Members then live lives of quiet desperation. Where family members develop guidelines, that reflect their collective values, interpersonal communication and interpersonal relationships have an excellent chance to carry on and thrive. Make it a policy to have fun and a healthy dose of freedom in your family business.
  10. "The family business makes the living, but the home makes the living worthwhile" as past District Home Economists Elaine Breadon Peche once said. Does balance exist in your family business or is it all family or all business? Are resources for family and business talked about and divided according to agreements, discussion and need? And what are the guidelines for establishing 'need'? Is the phrase most often heard ... "all we do is work", or "farm is always first" or we want a new car"? In addition to 'balance' it is noteworthy to constantly address 'needs' and 'wants'. This can cause family farms a lot of problems if members have an 'unhealthy' understanding of these in the reality of your own existing situation.
  11. Regular and purposeful meetings are essential for healthy family business relationships, maintaining effective communication, operational procedures and family and business operational efficiency. As effective communication is the mortar that holds the foundational components of the family team together, so too are regular meetings the vehicle for effective operation and maintenance of the family and family business.
  12. Have a healthy understanding of conflict and a system of resolution. Differences of opinion show an element of healthiness in a team. Conflict in family business is as common as cows having calves in a dairy. Developing a 'culture' of conflict (the establishment of a rhetoric that never goes away, never lets the eyes dry up and leads to dried up souls and listless faces) is totally unacceptable! And it can be prevented. Start early; keep the sack empty and take an active interest it each others lives (many of you will know what I'm talking about here).

These individual points represent but a mere 'drop' of all that is involved around each area. ... and that need to be expanded, learned and inputted into the minds and hearts of every family business team members. Take the learning, act on it (do it) and reap the benefits of a truly successful family farm business.

A family business that has within itself, The Family Furrow's definition of success, is the greatest place anyone would want to be!

Yes, yes, I can just hear it ... there are peculiar situations that may kick the manure out of some of these points. I have an answer to that. Take these points in their entirety, all collectively and expanded completely, and you will not be able to or have the thought of kicking the manure out of any of them! This works as evidenced by many that have traveled this route.

On behalf of The Family Furrow, we wish each and every one of you, our readers, and all Family Farm business members every bit of success as you work in and with your team.