Okay. Maybe communication isn't completely missing.
But in the recipe for success,
the ingredient called "COMMUNICATION" is needed in a larger quantity.
For several years we have been surveying owners and employees on various topics as part of the Executive Farmer Network peer group events. Communication is always listed as a top item that everyone believes needs addressing.
Most farms are at a size when everything from long-term strategies to daily activities need communicating. So, it's no surprise that communication is key for farms that want to grow or transition to a new generation
We should be great at communication by now. Never before have we been more connected to each other via social media, texting, video calls, and even telephone.
So why do farm owners and employees alike consistently list communication as the one thing that needs improvement?
Because being a good communicator is not always easy.
Managing large-scale farms is hard. Finding and keeping employees is hard. Working with family is hard. Growing a family is hard. But all of this is much harder when communication isn't up to par.
Good communication is a powerful ingredient to your success for several reasons.
Solid communication builds trust.
Something happens when we set aside time for the right kind of communication. Trust goes up. When we listen to each other's concerns, frustrations and help solve problems together; it builds trust. Coming together to solve problems builds trust.
Communication does one more thing.
It decreases bad conflict.
Good communication builds alignment around ideas, priorities, and strategies. We sometimes see farms in conflict because they aren't spending time communicating goals, strategies, and priorities. When communication doesn't happen, everyone starts creating assumptions about what the other person is doing, thinking, and their motives.
Good communication leads to higher trust. Higher trust leads to alignment around everything, from daily activities to long-term planning.
But how should we communicate?
Communication is a complicated topic because it can mean so many different things to different people. I am married, and trust me; communication means different things to different people.
The farms in our peer groups don't have a one-size-fits-all for communication.
There are different ways, or tools, to communicate different things.
Just like a toolbox, they pick the right tool for the job. The right tool is easy to use, at hand when you need it, and yet gets the job done.
Here are some tools gleaned from the members in our peer groups.
TOOL 1: Daily huddle with key employees and/or owners:
This is a very short, face-to-face meeting at the start of each day. It helps align everyone's focus on the most important thing that needs to happen that day. Sometimes this is done via phone, but it happens every day and only lasts about fifteen minutes. Daily huddles drastically decrease the number of interruptions and confusion later on in the day. As a result, everyone will fully understand the priorities and work the day. This seems so simple yet many farms don't do it. But those that do wouldn't think of stopping them.
TOOL 2: The owner or leadership meetings.
These can be weekly, monthly, or at the longest, quarterly basis. This meeting is about working ON the business. It’s the time to deal with the business side of the business, such as purchases, employees, opportunities, and finance. There is always enough to talk about. The key is to have an agenda that everyone populates with ideas throughout the week or month. Weekly meetings may seem extreme, but many of the most successful farms will have their meeting rain or shine, harvest or winter. They have found them to be this important. The key is creating highly efficient meetings so everyone stays engaged and real challenges quickly are solved.
TOOL 3: One-way communication tools:
When the wrong tool for the task is used, communication gets complicated and takes too much time. If someone texts you, how often does the text get lost in the dozens of texts you receive in the never-ending series of texts? How often are you part of a text thread that doesn't pertain to you? Some tools below fix that.
Many farms are using their phone apps such as GroupMe, WhatsApp, or Slack. These phone apps are often free, easy to learn, and allow you to group people and topics together. This keeps your communication tidy. For example, you can group your row crop harvest team under one chat channel. Maintenance items have their own spot. Spraying and agronomy has their group, etc. As an owner, you can easily keep tabs on what's going on without having to ask.
TOOL 4: Collaborative Task lists:
The days of having task lists in someone's head or on a notepad are quickly going away. As the farm grows, it's too easy to forget or lose the notepad. Many farms are moving towards task list apps such as Trello, Monday, or T-Sheets. These allow you, as the owner, to have all tasks in one spot in the cloud and on your phone. You can delegate tasks and see the work is getting done without being interrupted by texts or phone calls. Your employees can see all or parts of your task lists and work at the items without being told. When they complete the tasks, you will see it's been done. These are powerful tools, and we haven't scratched the surface. But they are very easy to use, and employees love them. A transparent and collaborative system describes above will save you more time than imagined.
TOOL 5: One-on-One talks
Make a phone call for critical communication
Although the average American spends over five hours each day on their phone, less than 7% is spent talking. My son recently has a misunderstanding with several of his friends. His solution was to start a group text with all of the friends! Whoa! This is a miscommunication disaster waiting to happen. This is an example of when two-way communication is best. The stakes are high, and you can't afford to misunderstand what is being said.
Crucial or emotionally charged communication should always, always, be done face to face or on the phone. Of course, a Zoom call works in a pinch as well.
A couple of other examples are major purchases, employee reprimands, hirings, firing, and feedback. Deep discussions about estate planning, transition planning, or any other major decisions are best-handled face to face.
The best teams don't use texting as a crutch but rather cowboy up and deal with the crucial conversations head-on.
You may find, as we have, some of the younger employees and next-generation struggle with understanding these boundaries.
Consistency is the glue that holds communication together
Earlier, we talked about how several farms in our peer groups meet, as an owner group, once a week. This may seem extreme, but these farms believe the in order to keep on track during the slower, and easier times, they have to be consistent all the time.
Successful daily huddles or the use of apps also need consistency to really move communication forward. So often, communication is on again and off again, based on how busy everyone is. Yet great teams and ownership groups view part of their job description as being good communicators and use these skills every day.
Avoid the Pain of poor communication
Yes, staying on top of communication takes work. But let's look at the alternatives. For example, we often get calls from farm operations with high employee turnover, family fights, or owners with insufficient time to work on the business.
A first question we ask is,
"How and how often do you communicate on your farm."
We are asking what tools they use and the frequency of their communication.
Is it possible to have great communication and still have dire situations above? In several decades of working with farms we haven’t seen this even once.
Many people and farms are being challenged by how to communicate;
those that can communicate have an edge.
You can not only see quick returns on your investment using communication tools, but you will also stand out from your local peers. Unlike markets and weather,
this is absolutely something that not only will have a big impact on your farm; it's also within your control.
I have to admit that none of the ideas or tactics above are my own. They have all come from our peer group member meetings.
Progressive and growing farms have often overcome major communication challenges as they grow or transition their farms to another generation.
And you can too.
Communication is just one of the topics we cover as part of our EFN peer groups (Executive Farmer Network)