Written by B. Lynn Gordon (former SDSU Extension Agricultural Leadership Specialist).
In my series of articles on Agricultural Generational Communications, focused around a mock farm, “ABC Farm” to illustrate generational issues, this article is going to focus deeper on communications.
How many times have you heard someone say, “If only they would have communicated that point to me,” or “the main problem around here is communication, no one knows what is going on”, and “why does communication have to be so hard.” I venture to bet we have all said this or heard this statement many times, either within our families, organizations we serve and for sure in employment and across three generation family operations.
ABC Farm: Generational Makeup
As highlighted, our example situation “ABC Farm consists of the senior generation, 71-yr-old (John), his son (Tom) a 51-yr-old, farming alongside his dad for nearly 25 years, and grandson/son 24-year old (Brandon) who returned to the farm. Each of these individuals represent a different era, a baby boomer generation, a generation X’er and Brandon the youngest a millennial. Communication across these generational differences is accentuated as a result. With fifty years difference in age between Brandon and his grandfather, just think of how many things have changed in how we communicate in the last 5 years and the different experiences each of these generations have had. These individuals were all raised in such different times, it is no doubt one of the main issues they need to continually focus on is communication, — how to communicate effectively.
Four Key Questions
The following are four key questions, for farms businesses to determine how effective they are at communicating. Can everyone within the farm (or business) honestly say yes to each of the following statements?
- I know what’s going on.
- I know what to expect
- I know what I’m doing
- I knew how we are doing.
If these three individuals can answer “Yes” to each of these questions then communication is working well. However, if one or more individuals can’t answer one of these questions with a ‘Yes’, then there is a breakdown in the communication chain and it needs to be addressed to result in confusion, frustration, or feeling left out, especially in a farm family situation.
I am a proponent of regular meetings for any farm enterprise whether it be a three generational family farm, two generations or a farmer with several employees. Communication cannot be emphasized enough to keep things flowing and positively allow for the potential of a successful and profitable operation.
In this case study, I would encourage the three generations of individuals to determine a time for a regular meeting, maybe its weekly right before John (discussed in Part 1), likes to take a 10 a.m. coffee break to hear the markets so they can discuss the issues at hand and then Tom and Brandon can get on with the day. During this meeting, either weekly or at least once a month, take the time to ask the four questions highlighted above and for everyone to provide a response. This set of four questions, is a quick test to judge how well communication is flowing and a way to keep everyone feeling engaged and empowered.
The Bottom Line
I am aware of a large farm family operation that when they sit down for their farm meetings over a cup of coffee, there are nine individuals — all related — dads, sons, uncles, nephews who have chosen to remain as a part of the family operation. Just imagine how challenging it is to find the time for these nine individuals to meet, and stay informed if they did not prioritize having a regular communication session and how beneficial answering the four questions are to the outcome of their relationship and daily working routine.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” ~ George Bernard Shaw.