Today’s election day in the US, so let’s be thankful for the freedom we have to vote in our federal and local elections.

Last week I talked about how to develop a simple connectivity model for any operation. This week we’re going to address what many ag operations encounter: multi-generational communication.

As we live longer, we also farm longer. Some operations I work with have four (and yes, even FIVE) generations working alongside each other at the family farm. And with constant contact between multiple generations for both family and work relationships, tensions can rise and tempers can boil over.

If you’re a leader in business, realize that all generations need to communicate their value in order to be heard, be effective, and be respected. 

I’m going to lay out a few tips about creating and fostering clear communication and reducing conflict between generations on the farm that can be implemented quickly and grow over time.

Recognize Value

How do you get the different generations effectively communicating when there is a span of nearly a century between the 14-year-old granddaughter who thinks she’d like to farm and the ninety-something father who still owns much of the land?

While part of this involves negotiating skills, it’s really about communicating value.

What does each person bring to the farm? Recognizing the specific value each member brings to the operation is essential for this next generation of leaders to understand and manage if they want to succeed.

When we work with people across age ranges, we focus on communicating from different frames of reference. Different generations bring different contexts and strengths to the relationship. We need to acknowledge these unique perspectives across generations and work to build lines of communication and understanding. A big part of this involves communicating our unique value to others who may have a different frame of reference.

Perhaps the granddaughter is excellent at learning the newest app technology and can help make reports more efficient, while grandfather landlord can talk through the results of those reports and make the ultimate decision on how to move forward.

This is a co-learning moment which leads me to my next point…

Knowledge Transfer

The best way to achieve mutual respect between different generations is to provide value and connection through sharing what they know and how they think.

This happens all the time! Getting help on accomplishing a task, contributing to business conversations, and telling stories about the good and bad of certain methods are all ways of providing value and fostering connection.

Ultimately, generations need to respect each other and constructively learn from each other through intentional, not occasional, knowledge transfer. Find ways to incorporate intentional knowledge transfer into your operation using mentorship, accountability partners, or other structured methods.

Leadership Roles

Co-leadership is often a solution when two generations are both in charge without the awkward concept of “co-CEOs” while still recognizing the value both generations bring to the business.

Consider the example from Minnesota of Chuck Sr. and his son, Charlie. During a family planning retreat, the board named Charlie as president, while Chuck Sr. remained CEO. In their succession plan, Charlie becomes CEO when Chuck, Sr. retires, which he’s not ready to do yet!

Besides, Charlie values having his dad in the same office (except for the two months Chuck Sr. now spends in Florida), and he feels supported as he grows into the role of CEO. Charlie is only in his mid-30s, so he has time to learn before he takes over. Additionally, by being president, he already has specific decisions to make with the counsel of his dad and other key business leaders in the family, like his aunt, who serves as a vice president.

This clearly-defined leadership setup brings clarity and comfort to all parties, and it means there can be communication between the generations without one person feeling threatened (or undermined) by another of a different generation.

A few of these steps can be implemented quickly but will take time and effort by everyone in the operation to make it succeed and bridge that multi-generational gap.

What generational gaps do you see in your operation? How can you bridge them with these techniques and others?

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