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:
PROFITABLE AND PURPOSEFUL
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
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.
EMPLOYED AND ENGAGED
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
To gauge your family employment success, consider your family members'
perspective on their work: Do you sense that they are truly engaged?
CALCULATED AND CARING
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
Copyright 2016 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.
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