“Trust always affects two measurable outcomes: speed and cost. When trust goes down—in a relationship, on a team, in a company, in an industry, with a customer—speed decreases with it. Everything takes longer. Simultaneously, costs increase. Redundancy processes, with everyone checking up on everyone else, cost more. In relationships, on teams, in companies, that’s a tax. I call it a low-trust tax where literally everything is being taxed off the top. Where trust is low, everything takes longer and costs more.” ~ Stephen M.R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust
Imagine how much better life would be if trust on the farm was not an issue. When a farm founder trusts the next generation, it is a beautiful thing to behold. The spirit of generosity is fully empowered to help each generation find success in their roles. When people trust each other, you save heaps of time because you don’t blame, shame, or feel nervous about your choices to act. You have a culture where everyone believes the other team members are working as their best selves. Communication and behaviour are respectful, safe, and open. Decisions are made efficiently, with the speed of good trust.
How would you rate the trust level of your farm team?
Have you ever stopped to think about what you could do to improve the degree of trust between the generations?
Do you even think there is hope for trust to improve with some care and attention to it?
The tips in this blog post will help you asses your current situation so you can build trust on the farm and work together better as a team.
5 Important Questions to Ask to Boost Trust on the Farm
A recent, emotionally charged meeting is fueling this post. The founder was agitated as I drilled him with questions about what he was truly afraid of in doing the transition plan. He grabbed my marker and asked to write on the large, white, blank sheet of my beloved flipchart. I was thrilled to say, “yes!”
We witnessed a breakthrough in communication at that very moment.
Circles of wealth and depleted savings were drawn on the parent’s side of the sheet. Circles of structure and question marks were drawn on the successor’s side of the sheet. Very clearly, the lack of trust on the farm was related to the lack of financial transparency between the generations as well as the perceived loss of parental wealth and transfer of farm assets to other real estates.
Over 25 years ago, accountability expert David Irvine created these 5 Important Questions about Trust. His questionnaire was meant to be filled out by adult children, but I think these are worthy questions for both founders and successors.
- How much do I feel trusted to take over this operation?
I would add here that your answer should be in the range of 1 to 10 to give this level of trust on the farm a concrete number. One is not at all, and 10 is very much so. A number helps each party understand how close or far away they are in terms of their perception of trust. If both parties give it an 8 there is a mutual understanding; if one person says 8 and the other says 2, then you have a real gap in understanding each other’s perceptions of trust.
- What fears do I have of taking over control?
Believe it or not, many young farmers are afraid of not doing enough to please their parents. They also fear failure in servicing debt. They are not sure that their family life is going to survive the workaholic tendencies of the older generations, so they are worried about how much time they can devote to farm labour compared to their elders.
- How much do I want to take over the operation? Is there goodwill here?
Yes, the next generation is passionate about farming and being in profitable business. If there are unreasonable salaries or compensation rates, maybe this is not a good idea. Will the older generation be helpful with a generous spirit or expect to be paid top dollar for every nut and bolt?
- What do I want from my parents that will strengthen the level of trust in this family?
I suspect the young farm couple wants security. That comes with well-written agreements, decent cash flow, and timelines that are reasonable. They are tired of emotional outbursts or promises that are not fulfilled. They also want to know that the business will be kept intact and not sliced up like a pie to meet the expectations of the non-farm heirs.
- How much can I talk openly about the answers to the above questions to family members involved in the business?
We worked on this openly in our facilitated meeting, yet there is much personal work to do. Covey believes that trust can be rebuilt, and so do I. It takes lots of action, being true to what you say and do. For the families I work with, it also helps to do a conflict dynamic profile to figure out which positive conflict behaviours—like perspective taking, creating solutions, and sharing emotions—can be intentionally strengthened.
This assessment is done online for $55 per person. For more information, ask for CDP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the subject of trust on the farm, I want to thank you as readers for your trust in me to tell you the hard truths about the journey of farm families as they work to build profitable businesses and eventually transfer ownership to their successors. In my decades-long career in coaching and sharing wisdom for Grainnews and on my blog, I can tell you that trust on the farm is absolutely essential. When you experience deep trust, it frees you up to do amazing things without second-guessing yourself or your relationships. Now just imagine how amazing that would feel on YOUR farm. Share these questions with your farm family, and come together to discuss your answers and resolve your differences. I said it before, but it bears repeating: trust on the farm CAN be rebuilt, and it can be strengthened. The only way to get there is to put in the work.