Building, evaluating farm family relations


Success in family businesses is a two-way street — top managers creating an environment in which people can succeed and people taking advantage of the opportunities given them.

The guidelines for being known as an outstanding family member in the business are strikingly similar to the guidelines for building a reputation as an outstanding non-family employee.

The following guidelines are written to family members who must work with the top manager, with each other, and with non-family employees.

Seek responsibility

Pay special attention to what responsibilities others in the family avoid. Their avoidance provides you opportunity. Regularly taking an extra turn at the “dirty” jobs builds goodwill.

Fairness or equality matters much less than the reputation within the family that you are building. Assisting with what the business needs most — for example better records — helps more than insisting on one’s favorite tasks already being done adequately by someone else.

Become competent

Be willing to learn. Admit to what you don’t know or don’t know how to do. Asking many questions of knowledgeable people, training, practice, reading, watching videos and hard work are just some ways to build up your competencies.

“Read” the signals sent to you.

Family members are more likely to hint at what they want you to know than to assert it clearly. Everyone paying attention to nonverbal communication avoids the buildup of emotions and anger.

“Readers” of others can become the askers, the promoters of improved communication, and the mediators. Those sensitive to the feelings of others are likely to be widely appreciated within the family. People with ears and eyes of stone are about as helpful to communication as walls of stone.

Be consistent

Moodiness isn’t an asset; evenness and consistency are. Practice self-control. Such guidelines suggest to some people that they need to change to be successful in their family’s business.

The precise point of this guideline is to call attention to the simple fact some people have personal characteristics that, if unchanged, will guarantee failure in the business. Choosing each day to be happy is an excellent first step.

Admit your mistakes

Save everyone else the need to figure out what went wrong if you already know what happened. Making excuses doesn’t help. It does cause others to be suspicious of you when similar things next go wrong.

Be independent

If Mom still washes your underwear, you are not ready to form a business relationship with Dad. Family business relationships should be adult-like. People living with their parents often retain a parent-child relationship, rather than work toward an adult-adult relationship.

Worship, social and recreational lives independent of parents and other family members often contribute to success in family business relations.

Build good relations

Non-family employees watch your family. They wonder about family relations and their future. Experienced employees worry about young family members taking their jobs. Young family members can learn a great deal from employees who have been through years of ups and downs with the farm.

The older employees often know the senior family members better than they know young family members. Take advantage of their wisdom.

Prepare for advancement

Observe carefully what the top managers are doing. Learn from their mistakes. Ask them questions. Seek opportunity to gain experience in making decisions, putting into practice what you have decided, and then living with the consequences.

Get well acquainted with successful top managers throughout the country. Know where the industry is going, who are its leaders, and what the most importance challenges are that lie ahead.

Keep your personal mission statement updated. Have a career plan, but accept that it cannot be a road map to get you to a specific career point by a certain date. A career is a journey, not a target.


Family businesses offer some families an attractive opportunity to work together. The families can look forward to accomplishing their business, career, and family goals. Success in family labor relations comes only through dedication, hard work and cooperation



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