Written by B. Lynn Gordon (former SDSU Extension Agricultural Leadership Specialist).
The holiday season makes us think about generations and thus I started a series of columns centered on ‘Agricultural Generational Communications and Needs.’ I introduced this series by utilizing a typical three generation farm/ranch scenario called ABC Farm, in my column called, Holidays – A time for generations.
Generational Operation: ABC Farm
As a reminder ABC Farm consisted of the senior generation, a 71-yr-old who started the farming business, (we will call John), along with his son a 51-yr-old farming alongside his dad for nearly 25 years (Tom), and a third generation return of 24-year grandson/son (Brandon), who recently completed college. This farm represents the baby boomer, generation X and the millennial generation. More specific details about each of these individuals is outlined in my initial column.
Since generational operations are primarily family members, we assume we know all there is to know about each other, right? On the surface we probably do know some key characteristics or preferences of family members, but is that the same as knowing them at a level of working alongside or reporting to them on a daily basis. Is their personal style the same as the style they represent when they are in their work mindset?
For example, the senior generation, John, takes a daily 10:00 a.m. coffee break. Do we know why this is? Well, the reason for the break at that specific time is so he can listen to the farm markets on the radio in the house. Sure he may have a cup a coffee or two, but for the baby boomer generation, listening to the markets on the radio at this time is something they have done for decades. What confuses the other generations involved in ABC Farm is why sometimes this break is 20 minutes and sometimes it’s over an hour. Why is that? Could it be because the market report may lead John to calculate marketing plans for buying or selling crops on certain days which takes longer? Do the others who are part of the farm understand this?
Tom and Brandon believe John has a 10:00 a.m. coffee break religiously, because of his age, giving him a mid-morning break. But, since they can’t predict if he will be 20 minutes or an hour in the house, they get frustrated waiting for directions on what to accomplish that day. This frustration can soon lead to larger issues.
Questions to Consider
This example, highlights two important issues for further discussion, understanding personality styles and effective methods of communication across generations. As a first step in starting to understand generational differences, start by asking yourself:
- Do you really know the person?
- Do you know their likes/dislikes? Their habits?
- Do you understand why they perform the duties they do?
- Do you find yourself brushing off actions, because the person is family?
- Do you say, “Oh, that’s just John, he is always that way”, rather than really understanding how John’s actions are valuable to the operation or maybe even a detriment?
- Are the other family members’ actions representative of their generation or are they representative of them as individuals?
Over this holiday season, begin taking note of the differences you see in each of the generations involved in your farm. Then attempt to answer the questions above and look forward to reading the next column on ‘Agricultural Generational Communications and Needs.”