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Get out sticky notes, categorize farm duties

PeopleImages/Getty images Woman writing on sticky notes on board
SEEING IS BELIEVING: Farm responsibilities often are assumed or looked over. Once a year, putting those individual assignments on paper can help farms account for all tasks, while aligning the right worker with the right job.
Business Basics: Writing down tasks and grouping them can help you visualize roles on the farm.

In a previous column, we discussed the importance of all family members and employees finding the right seat on the bus within your business. When everyone specializes in the role they enjoy most and do best, their productivity goes up, and your business reaches new heights. But how exactly do we do that?

It sounds simple, but properly aligning your people can be anything but simple. Some businesses have entire departments dedicated to staffing. Before getting frustrated and just sticking with the way you’ve always done things, consider trying the following steps:

List your farm responsibilities. First, find a stack of post-it notes. Then schedule time in a future family business meeting to list out every task that gets completed in your business. Some tasks will involve only labor; others include management decisions.

Be sure to involve everyone because you will find there are many jobs and decisions happening all around you that no one knows about except those actually doing them. Get input from employees because they will provide further insights into the work they do.

Once you feel you have adequately listed out everything happening in your business, walk over to the wall and begin arranging post-it notes into groups of similar responsibilities.

There may be a category of livestock tasks and decisions, those for feeding, genetic, veterinary and marketing blocks. If you have crops, they will include seed selection, fertilizer, spraying and sales. Then there’s landlord lease negotiations, machinery maintenance and purchases, budgeting and finance, payroll, employee management, etc. The list will likely go on and on if you really put effort into the process.

Then at your next family business meeting, discuss each group of responsibilities and options for who is best qualified for each.

Find the right person for the job. Don’t assume just because someone has always done something in the past, they should continue doing it in the future. Let each member of your team indicate where they feel their gift lies. Be willing to let younger members of your team step out and try something new.

In my experience, this exercise helps ease some of the conflicts in many family businesses.

When confronted with the truth on the wall that the senior generation is controlling all the key management decisions, they may be more willing to let their son or daughter take responsibility for a group of post-it notes.

In some instances, it can actually be a freeing experience, when they realize they don’t have to do it all anymore. Letting someone else take a little responsibility off their plate can actually feel good for once.

Festering sibling rivalries can sometimes be diffused because of open and honest discussions about who is responsible and has decision-making authority in each area.

Consider farm transition scenarios. When considering farm succession, this exercise paints a vivid picture of all the roles needed to be picked up if someone is considering retirement.

Who’s going to take on everything Dad has been doing when he and Mom go to Florida next winter? Do we share the responsibilities, or do they fall on one person? Then who will pick up what that person has been doing as well?

The exercise also helps prepare for the “what-if” scenarios. What if any one of us were to be suddenly disabled or killed in an accident? I encourage families to set aside time on a regular basis to play the what-if game, where they pull a name from the hat and assume that person is suddenly gone.

They must strategize how the business will continue without the person’s presence. The what-if game is not much fun, but can prepare a business for the challenges of life.

Whoever thought a simple stack of post-it notes could be so important for the future of a family business? But when combined with open communication, this simple process can help everyone find their role in the business, reduce conflict among people, prepare the business and family for the unknown, and create a smooth and orderly transition from one generation to the next. Let’s give it a try!

Tucker is a University of Missouri Extension ag business specialist and succession planner. He can be reached at tuckerw@missouri.edu or 417-326-4916.

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