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Five fingers

Mark Andrew Junkin for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 March 2019
five fingers

I was on a farm in Wisconsin in January; it was a father and daughter team. They were far from a team when I first met them.

The daughter had just come home to farm and was working her way into the business, but she and her dad bickered over every decision. It didn’t matter what they were talking about; it was a constant battle about who was right.

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As a result, there were a lot of things going wrong on that farm. The root issue was: They were competing for control, not considering a different perspective. It was Dad’s way or the highway, or it was the daughter’s way or the highway.

Sound vaguely familiar? Poor communication? Partners who won’t listen to each other? Partners who won’t consider a different perspective – only caring when it is their idea? On most farms I walk onto, this is a prominent problem.

Standing there in that milkhouse, I knew I had 30 seconds to turn this farm around by changing both their perspectives – or else they were going to split the partnership within 30 days.

I remembered seeing an old bank barn at the entrance to their farm, and I had them step out of the milkhouse. The frigid wind whipped us all, but I had them look up to that barn on the hill, and I asked, “Have you ever considered taking a rope and throwing it over the barn beam and hanging yourself?”

The father just stood there stunned with arms folded tightly. The daughter gave a startled laugh.

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“When you throw a rope over a beam and climb that beam to jump, that is the ultimate decision. That is the ultimate way for you to say to the world, ‘There is no other way to fix this problem.’”

I then asked them, “Is that true? Is there no other way?” I answered my own question immediately and sternly: “Never. There is always another way to fix the problem. A way you haven’t thought about or refuse to consider.”

“What we don’t talk about with farm suicides caused by economic circumstances,” I went on, “is what led up to that choice. It was a series of decisions made with the same mentality, where we said, ‘There is only one way to deal with the problem.’ Our pride causes us to put on blinders and not consider our partner’s (or another stakeholder’s) viewpoint. We look at things from one perspective when there are always many ways to skin the cat.”

It’s this dysfunctional, one-perspective decision-making that creates both dysfunctional families and dysfunctional farms.

For that farm to succeed, instead of constantly arguing things from one perspective, they needed to brainstorm as many options as possible for each critical problem and weigh the pros and cons of each option. And then finally make a decision together.

I had my left fist clenched with the pointing finger out, and I pointed to the tip of my finger with my other hand. “The answer is at the end of your fingertips. It’s not looking at every key problem with just one perspective … but five perspectives,” I said, unclenching my hand to reveal five fingers.

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“If you want to turn around a farm, all you have to do is look at more options. For everything critical you two argue about, go through and brainstorm five different options – not just one or two. Weigh the pros and cons of each solution and then make a decision. This method might take an extra 10 minutes to do but will result in a better decision, leading to more profitability and less frustration within your partnership. It’s just as simple as counting off options on your fingers.”

I have seen how switching a dairy’s culture from a binary (on/off) culture to a multiple-option decision-making culture eliminates power struggles and the usual family dramas that come with decision-making.

Instead of being infatuated on being right, you’ve got to focus on things actually being right. In order to do that, you’ve got to consider ideas that aren’t yours.  end mark

Photo: Getty Images.

Mark Andrew Junkin improves how farm families make decisions together. Get his new book, Tough Times Never Last, Tough Farm Families Do! at his website or call at (800) 474-2057.

Mark Andrew Junkin

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