The cattle business is an interesting one to try to master. While most producers have a similar model to follow when it comes to being at the mercy of commodity market swings, unpredictable weather conditions and changing input costs, there are certain variables that are unique to each ranching enterprise.
These variables include the geographic location of the ranch (terrain, forage quality, moisture, etc.), debt-to-asset ratio and how well each generation can seamlessly transfer ownership to the next, and family dynamics.
The third variable — family dynamics — can greatly impact the family business for better or for worse. In-laws, off-farm siblings and multiple generations can create challenges for the ranching enterprise that aren’t easily swept under the rug. Every person involved feels invested in one way or another; however, that doesn’t guarantee that each individual will see solutions to problems or management decisions the same way.
Arguments can stem from just about anything. In conversations with folks across the country, disagreements about land acquisitions, rental rates, employees, transition plans, trusts or other legalities are cause for concern. Small, petty arguments can create a huge wedge between family members, and that’s why communication is key.
Easier said than done though, right?
To make these tough conversations easier, Steven K. Moyer and Aaron M. Moyer of SKM Associates recently published a book titled, “Practical Checklists For Business Families.”
Because I’ve covered some of SKM’s family business management posts in the past, these folks were kind enough to send me a review copy. After reading through it myself, I want to pass along the information for other producers who might benefit from this material.
As the title suggests, the book lists a series of practical questions that business families should ask each other at meetings. Designed to provide thought-provoking and critical questions for families, the book includes 20 questions that help with self-examination and business planning.
From my vantage point, the book, which is available on Amazon, really offers a great roadmap for family businesses to follow. This not only helps address concerns of the family business, but could also ensure that everyone gets along outside of the business.
The authors write, “There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for families or organizations; however, no matter what business or family you come from, the journey requires the ability to ask the difficult questions and dialogue about sensitive issues.”
To get an idea of some of the tough questions we need to ask each other, here are a few examples from the book: Do our family members trust each other? Can our family talk about anything? Do we have a written business plan? Does our family have a unified vision for the future?
The questions may be tough, and the answers may differ greatly depending on who in the family business you ask; however, I believe family is the foundation of the family farm or ranch, and if the family unit isn’t united and on the same page, the business will suffer as a result.
Ask the hard questions. Listen to the difficult answers. Communicate clearly. Reference this book, or previous blog discussions on this topic, to help guide you.