Many families unsure how to go about making changes

Start small and be specific when making changes to the farming operation.  | Getty Images

By the time you read this article, 2020 will be in the rear-view mirror. There will be lots written about 2020, most notably the pandemic and including how things have changed and how things will continue to change as a result. This will be a global discussion.

Let’s drill the discussion down to the farm level. I’ve organized 10 questions into three categories to help.

Finance

  • Do you need to have stronger cash flow?
  • Do you worry that you may have too much debt?
  • Do you know what your financial efficiency strengths and weaknesses are?
  • Do you have a budget for 2021?

Family and lifestyle

  • Do you work too much (or did you take a vacation in 2020)?
  • Will there (or should there) be any new family members involved in the management of the farm this year? Within the next three years?
  • Does it feel like there’s too much tension (or conflict) at times?

Management

  • Do you have a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities associated with the management of your farm?
  • Do you have regular meetings with notes recorded?
  • Will you be increasing the size or diversity of your farm this year? Within the next three years?

I don’t think there are necessarily correct answers to the questions. There are preferred answers, yes, but what I think is most important are your answers and how you feel about them.

For example, you could have answered “yes” to the question about working too much and be completely OK with it. Or, you could have answered “no” to the question about regular meetings but not be concerned about it.

Do you feel, though, that there are too many questions that you would like to have been able to have answered differently? If so, the next most important question is what are you going to do about it?

The danger is that nothing will get done differently, and if you were to take the same mini-survey a year from now, your answers would be the same. That would be unfortunate, but it’s a typical situation for a great number of farm families. Why is that?

My observation is that many farm families would seriously like to make some changes but don’t know where, or how, to start.

I don’t know of any resource that I could direct you to that would provide you with a blueprint for change on your farm. There are planning tools and resources available and lots written about change management. The stumbling block is how to take those resources and apply them to the uniqueness of farm business management.

So here’s a suggestion. Start small and be specific. The benefit of starting small and being specific is that it will give you the best chance of sustaining the change you want or need.

It can be counter-productive to embark on an ambitious project aimed at making substantive change within your business management processes, only to lose focus and drift back into old patterns. It’s similar to a commitment to exercise more or lose weight.

I’m going to suggest that you select one or two of the answers above that you’d like to change and work on those to start.

Be specific about writing down the following:

  • Describe what the change is that you’d like to see.
  • Describe how you would know if the change had occurred or was accomplishing what you wanted to see.
  • Write down the steps required. It will help to be very specific. This may feel onerous or even a bit silly if the steps are obvious, but the detail will help immensely.
  • Find someone to be your change buddy. It can be a family member, a friend, a peer or an adviser. Being accountable to someone will give you a much greater chance at successful outcomes.
  • Define how you are going to celebrate your success but make sure that the “successes” you are looking for are small.

Accomplishing meaningful change on a farm can be difficult. A colleague of mine at Backswath says that change doesn’t occur until change happens. And you have to start somewhere.

Jim Morrison and fellow members of the Doors wrote the song Break On Through (to the Other Side). What would it take you to break through to the other side?

Terry Betker, PAg, is a farm management consultant based in Winnipeg. He can be reached at 204-782-8200 or terry.betker@backswath.com.

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