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A culture of participation

“Participatory culture” is where this series of columns has led us.

That’s because, at the end of the day, when we talk about continuous improvement, it’s not just about changing our business but also our behaviour. It’s about the older generation creating environments where the next generation feels comfortable sharing their opinions and making mistakes.

It’s about creating a culture that truly is participatory and that can change the way we farm and run our farming business. I encourage you to allow the next generation to have a voice: seek it, welcome it, and learn from it.

Participation means more than just joining in. It’s about contributing in a meaningful, valuable way that makes a difference. When I started this series, I spoke about the new appetite of today’s generation to listen and learn but also speak up and share their thoughts. They are confident. They are educated. We should welcome their enthusiasm and perspective in discussions on the business. But what does that participatory culture look like? And how do we get there in our own farm business?

Creating this environment takes work. It takes patience, and it takes understanding. It takes a conscious effort and desire to create it.

Firstly, we need to be aware of the signs that our next generation is ready to listen, learn and add their own valuable perspective. Participating as a family in the continuity planning process means sharing our experiences and knowledge but also allowing them to have a strong voice in decision making. The time to implement a consensus-based approach to the overall operations and management of the business is unique to each family; guided by the individual business and family dynamics.

When we make the appointment with the banker or accountant – let’s make sure they know we are bringing the next generation for continuity planning purposes. It’s okay to say you want your family to understand the “on the business items” as much as “working in the business”. It also shows your professional teams that you care about your business, and that it is worth the investment.

It’s also okay to have meetings about the business in the house, rather than the shed or the barn. During those meetings, it’s okay to share what the numbers mean and to illustrate the basis of your decisions. For example, why you didn’t buy the farm down the road, or why you felt it was best to put the last tractor purchase on a 5-year term loan versus the line of credit. This inclusiveness allows generations to understand each other, reveals how personalities differ and explains how decisions were made.

Collaboration is at its best when families sit around a table and begin to share – I have seen it help families embrace change when it was needed most. Establishing a process for change with clear steps for transition of leadership provides comfort for everyone because they participated in creating it. I promote a no surprise rule; discussing as many things that could possibly interrupt our plans, so we are not caught in a “pull the fire alarm” type situation.

If we want our next generation to follow these standards, nothing will work better than creating a feeling of inclusiveness; a feeling that they are contributing toward the family farm vision. I have seen it make the difference between a successor that has a clear vision of his future, and one that struggles to find his place in the family business.

When we have the appetite, we better feed it before it’s lost. Embrace the fact the next generation wants to know more. They do want to learn more. Although it may seem like they want to do it with less work, that is often a result of wanting to integrate more technology applications into our farming business.

Remember, it’s about creating a participatory culture. It’s about allowing them to participate. The earlier we bring the next generation into these discussions, the earlier they feel comfortable sharing their ideas. It is great to watch when a family can brainstorm and discuss advantages and disadvantages of certain changes and come to consensus on a direction.

These are the families that are ahead of the curve and will have a stronger chance of continued success in a challenging farming industry.

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