Dad and son on family dairy farm

Four strategies for thriving in your family farm business

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Working together as a family in the family business is the task of a lifetime. It isn't easy, but doing it well means that not only will your family thrive, your business will, too.

Tom Hubler, Minnesota-based family business consultant, weighs in with four big-picture objectives for families in business together that will keep both relationships and business going strong.

1. Fun 

Extended family sitting outdoors smilingHaving fun together is one of the best ways we bond with others, but fun can easily go by the wayside in farming life. The mountains of work to do combined with fewer events and activities in a rural setting can easily lead to a habit of work, work, work. Not to mention that fun is one of the first things to go when there's any tension in the family.

But it's important to enjoy non-work time together as a family. Fun doesn't just help us create strong relationships, it also helps mitigate stress, of which there is often plenty on the farm. "Fun is important for its own sake," said Hubler. "It builds and maintains the family's emotional cohesiveness, and it relieves stress and tension."

Having fun doesn't have to be fancy or require the spending of money. Gathering to have a meal together, play games, take walks, watch a movie, or visit local events are all simple ideas for increasing the fun factor in your family.

2. Praise

Praise is a simple act with great power, often forgotten about in family life. Because family members are comfortable and familiar with one another, they're sometimes tempted to treat each other even less courteously than they would strangers or acquaintances. The love and appreciation is assumed.

Hubler says we should do just the opposite. "Because you love one another, it's important to regularly recognize and express appreciation to your family members," he says. This can come in the form of gratitude ("thank you for..."), compliments ("I thought you really did an excellent job with..."), or even simple acknowledgement ("I noticed you..."). We shouldn't underestimate the power of praise.

Hubler says he's noticed a specific dynamic in family businesses. Both generationsthe older and the youngerare craving praise and appreciation. "Deep down, [the senior generation] wants to know their adult children appreciate their hard work and many sacrifices," he said. "That is also precisely what the younger generation wants. They want to be recognized and appreciated for their contributions and committment to the family business."

"There is no one model for happy families. But it's important to recognize that happy families are crucial to family business success. Your family, like your business, needs specific and purposeful attention."

-Tom Hubler 

3. Rituals

Rituals and routines are part of a strong sense of community in any group. They help build a sense of unity and identity. "A family's rituals are the glue that binds them together. A family benefits enormously by celebrating them," Hubler said.

Rituals often develop naturally over the course of a family's time together. But you can also be intentional about building rituals into your family, especially when the family is growing and new generations are being added. "It's beneficial to update or create new rituals that reflect the current growth and evolution of the family," Hubler said.

A helpful phrase is "every ___, we ____." Every 4th of July, we have a family reunion at the park and play kickball. The last Friday of each month we gather for pizza and a movie. Building in ritual to your family life will greatly benefit your family unity, which in turn will impact the family business for the better.

4. Family vision

Similar to a mission statement of a company, a family vision expresses the big-picture ideas that guide all the work you do. But for a family business, it's a little more personal. Hubler defines a family vision as "making a promise or resolution to contribute to the common good of the family." It's created out of the values a family wants to have, both in the family and in the business they run together.

What does it look like? Hubler describes a family vision as "high-level principles that are discussed and developed into a brief paragraph that truly reflects what the family believes about themselves and their values." A family vision helps guide the complex work of family business. Hubler says it's important to understand that no individual in a family is always going to get everything he or she wants. A family vision helps family members fous on doing what they can to contribute to the common good, trusting that others in the family are doing the same.

A family vision may seem fluffy or impractical, but Hubler has seen its benefits play out time and time again in his work with family businesses. He says the family vision is "key," and he recommends that once it's developed each member find a way to engage with it every day, so it truly becomes part of the family culture, not just a paragraph sitting on paper.

(Crafting a Common Family Vision is a central part of Tom's consulting approach with family businesses. For more information on his work, see his website.)

It's no easy feat to have a thriving, healthy family and a family business to boot. We hope these four ideas have inspired you to see what you could improve in your family farm business to help it succeed for the long haul. 

Conservis is the leading independent farm management software system. Interested in learning about passing on the family farm? 

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