I send my dad a farm update every weekday morning. This is a new habit, and I love it. I suspect he doesn’t mind, either. I’m proud to be at a stage in my farming trajectory where I am able to observe and articulate priorities in a way that lets those around me know I’ve been paying attention. The success of this approach highlights the critical role communications plays in farm succession.
It’s as simple as a few sentences and as complex as figuring out what those sentences should be.
Subject: On the farm –
Monday, April 6
I have a staff meeting at 9:30. Then, I’ll need to spend an hour or so at my computer, sending out interview requests for the next Pulse Beat as well as some farm-related emails that I didn’t get around to last week.
Then, on the farm, I’d like to check the flex points on the drill and then we should determine which machines need servicing this year.
What are your plans for the day?
Earlier this year, we both concluded that communications needed to improve on the farm. It was our determination to make sure this improvement happened. I wrestled with the best way to do this.
Then, when COVID-19 became the pandemic it is today and health officials began to implement social-isolation measures, the process started to become clear.
All of us at Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers started to work remotely and the regular communications between us transformed from something we took for granted to a challenge that required figuring out. We were not alone. All businesses were left floundering and forced to figure out exactly what is lost when regular face-to-face contact among staff and customers/clients isn’t allowed and which communications tools could make up for it.
It was in this quagmire that I decided to write a daily briefing to distribute among my co-workers. It serves as a pulse and soybean news roundup, policy update, as well as an update on what I am up to.
In 2016, when I started working at Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, I was not used to having to plan my day and I didn’t. I managed multiple jobs by the seat of my pants.
I would work on the farm for pockets of time and then retreat to my office for indefinite periods of time. My dad would walk from the workshop and machine shed and in general be busy with farm-related things, all of this visible from my office window. He wouldn’t know what I was up to, because not even I really knew what I was up to. I was reactive.
In 2017 through 2019, it was more of the same. At 7 a.m., on any given day during the growing season, I would not be able to tell you what my next 12 or so hours might look like.
This has changed in 2020. The quick note I send to my dad is not profound, but it does amazing work. It comes at the start of the day and it forces me to take a leading role in planning the day on the farm and it requires of me to know what exactly the farm’s needs are on, say, April 6.
It’s something I have wanted to implement for a long time, but, as with most things, it takes time for me to reach a comfort level with information such that I can interact and engage with it in a confident manner. I am not claiming to be above reproach. Quite the opposite. My comfort with farming and agriculture is at a stage that is probably more receptive to criticism than it ever has been.
To plan your day and share that plan with others is daunting. I think I’ve wrongfully associated a more reactive approach to life with a sense of freedom. I believed not committing was being free and independent. I now strongly believe the result is the opposite and that refusing to plan has more to do with remaining in stasis than anything related to freedom and/or progress.
As a communications director in my off-farm life, developing such methods was my burden to bear. I will continue to do the daily update and I am sure it will morph over time. As you all know, there is no one single tidbit of information that makes succession planning a walk in the part. Being able to communicate and then doing so regularly is both a good exercise personally and an important one professionally.
I am often terrible at it, despite the positions I hold, but when all the pieces fall into place and I am able to express my most honest thoughts, no matter how heavy the subject matter, in ways that are clear and respectful, there’s nothing like it.