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Whose mouth needs to be moving at your meeting?

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairy Published on 03 October 2021

Many farm families are feeling a deep sense of guilt knowing they should be having business meetings, but they just don’t seem to get around to it. The key factor is understanding why you need to meet.

Some reasons farm families should hold business meetings include:

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  • Family council to explore how the family operates
  • Succession/transition planning
  • Estate planning: wills, inheritance, fairness issues, legacy plans
  • Adviser and supplier meetings
  • Human resources, operations, etc.

In addition to knowing why you are meeting, think about whose mouth needs to be moving at each type of meeting.

Daughters-in-law are typically silent when they want to avoid conflict and don’t feel their voice counts. Sons-in-law may be the joint successors, and they also see the meeting process differently because their “fresh eyes” come from a different family style of communication. The other mouths you may or may not want to have open are the common-law partners of your farming children. Canadian law treats them as if “they were married” if they have lived together long enough. I treat partners and the in-laws as key players in the communication dynamic, welcoming them to voice their opinions at the meeting – with civility.

Is the meeting to navigate a family council for how you celebrate as a family? This meeting includes all family members whether they farm with you or not. I know a family who meets annually with the farming and non-farm children to talk about the family vision and how the farm is doing. The non-farm kids use this as a chance to encourage the parents to let go of control and applaud the efforts of the farming siblings.

Is the meeting to plan for the transfer of the business to the successor? This is a succession meeting and key players are the founders, successors and their spouses or partners. The non-farm heirs don’t need to be part of the initial succession planning meetings, but it is a good idea to include them in the communication loop as agreements are being reached. There seems to be a strong sense of entitlement in the country by non-farm heirs who believe they have a right to quota, cows and land.

As a farm communication coach, I typically have conversations with all the children and include them in the initial key family meeting, so they have a clear understanding of their parents’ intentions. Many people can live with tough decisions when they clearly understand the “why” behind the decision.

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Succession planning is a long process. One dairy family has the succession meeting monthly, which is different than the monthly operational meeting. Agenda items are collected on a white board in the barn office, and the administration officer farm family member keeps track of hot issues to discuss. Minutes of the meetings are emailed to all participants.

All family members need to have a voice in the estate planning meeting, as this is where the issue of fairness and inheritance expectations can be voiced. Ultimately, the founders decide what they want for their estate plan, yet they will have a keen sense of what their children are feeling if the meeting gives everyone a voice. As a coach, I may receive the minutes of the meetings to track the progress of the decision-making and keep all parties accountable to act.

Another important meeting for grooming your successors is to include them in the meetings with your lenders, accountants and lawyers. Suppliers also appreciate developing a relationship with the next generation. On our farm, I typically don’t meet with the equipment dealers, but when we are spending six figures on new iron, I appreciate an informal update and expense justification from my spouse. It is a sign of respect for my partnership in the marriage and the farm business.

When you encourage mouths to open at your farm business meetings, you need to set down guidelines for respectful communication. An agenda before the meetings helps everyone prepare their thoughts. A talking stick helps the holder speak their mind without interruption. The object is passed to the person who requests it, and all others listen.

Dr. David Kohl of Virginia Tech had a grad student discover that in over 400 farms across six states, the farm families who had regular farm business meetings were 21% more profitable. Communication that resolves conflict, deals with the people issues and pays attention to the financials of your operation is a wonderful thing.

I challenge you to see where your resistance to opening your mouth is coming from.

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Is it your head not understanding the legal jargon or tax implications? It is perfectly fine to admit that you don’t understand or need another explanation that makes better sense to you.

Is it your heart making you feel sad about letting go of power and control? Or is your heart aching to find out what your daughter-in-law really feels about the family, but you are not at the point of trust yet where she is willing to open up to you?

Is it your gut, your intuition, guiding you with the impression that you must face your fears and do the meetings anyway?

Farm families can’t always manage meetings well on their own. That’s why the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors directory exists to help you find a facilitator to guide your discussions.

Decide why you need to meet. Meet regularly with great openness and a spirit of curiosity to find out what the other person is thinking and feeling, without judgment.

My bias is to include all the family as much as possible. One family who tried to meet without the spouses ended up with a huge conflict and a tape recorder at the table held by an angry successor who refused to talk if he could not “tape for his wife.”

I tend to be more inclusive of all family members because I strongly feel we all have communication filters, and it is easier for everyone to hear the message firsthand than have it translated later by a biased farming spouse.

The best feeling in the world is to have your intentions clearly understood with the love and respect of the entire family wanting to make changes for the betterment of all parties. Open mouths that resolve conflict respectfully are very freeing tools you need to add to your business toolbox. end mark

Elaine Froese helps farm families find harmony through understanding. Visit Elaine Froese contact to book time for a free coaching discovery call.

Elaine Froese
  • Elaine Froese

  • Certified Farm Family Coach
  • Email Elaine Froese

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