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Family Business Matters       06/09 06:30

   Beyond the Dollars

   The most satisfied small business owners may be wealthy but measure success 
in nonmonetary terms.

By Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser

   One of the reasons I enjoy working with closely held agriculture businesses 
is that many families take a holistic view of success. Making money is 
important, but it isn't always the most important: the chance to work with and 
influence family members, the sense of satisfaction in growing a crop or 
raising an animal, or the opportunity to grow and pass on a legacy are seen as 
equally valid indicators of success. In this spirit of a more rounded view of 
achievement, consider the following dual goals: 


   Profits are clearly needed to sustain an enterprise, and with current 
commodity and livestock markets, profitability is no easy feat. Meeting your 
current cash needs to satisfy lenders, vendors and family living expenses 
increases your sense that you are pleased with your current circumstances. 
Profits provide, in a word, happiness. 

   Happiness, though, is an emotion often tied primarily to the satisfaction of 
present needs. In the last few years, researchers and authors in the field of 
positive psychology have explored people's associations with happiness. One 
result is that "meaning," or a sense of purpose, are greater contributors to 
long-term well-being than just feeling happy. And as I think about family 
businesses I know, many that are successful do indeed see a greater purpose, or 
can connect a certain meaning, to their business endeavors. While a public 
company might say they exist to provide value to shareholders, a family company 
might more readily add several other reasons beyond shareholder value. Feeding 
the world, improving the land, or contributing to the community are examples of 
such meaning.

   The next time your family is together, talk about the reasons you choose to 
be in business together. My hunch is that making money is only one of several 
reasons, and those other reasons create a strong desire to stay together even 
during the tough times.


   In a recent Progressive Farmer column, I describe the idea that having adult 
children return to the business is only a surface-level indicator of success. 
If children return but are miserable, if they view the work as "only a job," or 
they never achieve a sense of satisfaction from their work, how successful is 
the multi-generational family business? Lots of family members may give the 
appearance of a flourishing enterprise, but under the surface, a lack of 
engagement suggests a nagging sense of failure.

   The more complete notion of successful generational involvement includes 
family members who are engaged in their work. Engagement means they have an 
understanding of their unique contribution to the organization. They see, and 
are motivated by, the difference they make in the operation. They approach 
their role with enthusiasm despite the required hard work. And they participate 
in making the business a good place to work. In short, they see their 
employment opportunity as a career or vocation and their overall contribution 
is positive.

   To gauge your family employment success, consider your family members' 
perspective on their work: Do you sense that they are truly engaged?


   Operating a successful agriculture business in today's complex and 
fast-changing environment requires strategic thinking. Nowhere is this sense of 
strategy more important than in your approach to attracting, motivating and 
retaining staff. The difficulty in finding qualified help in rural communities 
affects almost every family business with which I'm familiar. Being intentional 
and calculating in your approach to working with people is a basic requirement.

   For all the necessary strategy, however, your care for others is a deeply 
attractive quality to most employees. Many business owners treat their staff as 
if they are family members by getting to know their families, helping them 
through difficult circumstances, providing great fringe benefits and offering 
flexibility in work arrangements. When these gestures come from a true sense of 
care, the recipient is genuinely grateful, and, in my observation, the 
reciprocal commitment by the employee is stronger than if motivational and 
benefit strategies are approached as a transaction or quid-pro-quo. 

   Consider your approach to people. Do you come at the relationship with staff 
from both your heart and your head? What evidence demonstrates that your 
employees know just how much you care about them?

   While the additional dimensions of success listed here may be hard to 
quantify, I see such elements time and time again in family businesses that 
radiate triumph at a deeper level. Consider evaluating each component, and 
develop others for discussion, at your next business meeting among family 
members. The discussion will generate some good ideas on how your family 
business defines success.

   To comment on this topic, see the Minding Ag's Business blog at 


   EDITOR'S NOTE: Lance Woodbury writes family business columns for both DTN 
and our sister magazine, "The Progressive Farmer." He is a Garden City, Kansas, 
author, consultant and professional mediator with more than 20 years experience 
specializing in agriculture and closely-held businesses. Email questions for 
this column to Lance@agprogress.com. Find all of DTN farm business columnists 
online at https://www.dtnpf.com/agriculture/web/ag/perspectives/columns


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