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Who gets to make the ultimate decision on this farm?

Here’s some helpful overview questions to aid the decision-making process

One of speaker Norm Rubin’s universal laws of life goes like this: “Make everyone a stakeholder. Involve everyone on your team in your farm; ask for their input and opinions. Recognize that all those involved in your business will build your business. When you make everyone in your network a stakeholder, whether they have a financial or emotional investment in your business, then they will produce like they have never produced before.”

Do you agree with Rubin?

Making decisions on the family farm can be emotional and frustrating if the decision-making style is one of “benevolent dictatorship.” This style is listening to Dad’s direction, because it is “his way or the highway” kind of thinking. These farms do not have an inclusive model of decision-making that listens to or respects all the team’s inputs.

Remember you have two systems in play here, the family dynamic and the farm business system. Here are some helpful overview questions to help the decision-making process from NDSU Fargo’s Sean Brotherson:

  1. What is the issue or concern that we need to make a decision about? The father is typically keyed into operational decisions to keep the farm production high and profitable. The successor is thinking a bit more on the strategic side and wondering, “when do I get to be the manager and have ultimate control of the final decisions on this farm?” Mom is trying hard to separate the family issues from the business concerns, but she seems to get caught in the crossfire of angst from her husband and her adult son. Her key decision is to have a process or place to sit down to talk things through and get some action on making a decision for change! The daughter-in-law is busy with her off-farm job and wonders when she will be able to contribute her perspectives in the decision-making process. She feels her voice doesn’t count because no one asks for her opinions.
  2. What are the values that will guide us in setting goals related to work and our family? Values are the cherished beliefs that we hold. I have a values assessment tool that indicates my top seven values as spirituality, intimacy, honesty, challenge, friendship, independence, and accomplishment. These are the drivers for the work that gives me meaning and purpose. When a farm family team has conflicting values, no amount of talking is going to “fix things!” As Brotherson states: “Families tend to be more happy and successful when they have shared values and goals.” If Dad is blind to the need to build relationships with time off for fun and family, he will continue to demand 100-hour work weeks, 24/7 and drive away the desire of the next generation to copy his work style. I agree with Brotherson that, “The decisions we make, the way we use our time, and the things we spend money on are influenced by the values we have.” What are your top seven values? Compare your list to your spouse and your farm team members. What is negotiable for you and what is non-negotiable?
  3. Resources to get what you want can be abstract or concrete. Sean Brotherson calls this the chart of “Important resources in work-family decisions.”
    When you ask yourself about the resources you should consider in making the decision, you can reflect on Sean Brotherson’s charts shown here. Sometimes the personal (self-oriented) goals will be more important than the family-oriented or interpersonal goals. When the farm family can sit down in a respectful open conversation to discuss what everyone wants and why, amazing decisions can flow forth. If you can use the abstract and concrete resources to pinpoint what exactly is your concern for your decision, you’ll have a much more fruitful conversation and actionable outcome.
    Let’s take an example of the young son who has come back to farm with his parents. Armed with his college degree, a young wife and two small children, he has great expectations of how things are going to go on the farm. When he discovers that his quality of life is threatened by excessively long work hours and no opportunity to be a shareholder or equity owner in part of the farm, he starts to get very frustrated at age 33. He is “seven years away from 40” which is a goal he holds for power and control of being the farm’s ultimate decision maker. When he is 40, Dad will be 65. Dad still has a great need for job satisfaction and good family interaction. Can the young son find a way to prove that he can make good decisions by operating a part of the enterprise “on his own,” showing the financial success of the decisions he has made in that part of the operation?
    What resources are you drawing on to make good decisions? What other advisers or inputs could you access to create resources that would be helpful for better decision-making on your farm team?
  4. Draw a line down the centre of a blank page and list COSTS and BENEFITS of the decision.

“Costs refer to a decrease in what a person values such as less autonomy or economic security. Benefits refer to an increase in those things that are valued, such as increased time together or better personal esteem,” says Brotherson.

Consider at what point the costs are going to outweigh the benefits of a certain decision. For example, working off farm helps the cash flow, but the cost of vehicles, food, child care, clothing, processed meals, etc. may not be worth it. Women who work off farm may be doing it more for personal satisfaction than economic gain!

Different families have different styles of decision-making. Some autonomous folks may rest the ultimate decision with one family member, usually the one most affected by the decision. Other families have a more collaborative style whereby making the decision is shared jointly via consensus. On highly stressed farms the style for decisions tends to rest with the founder, usually the father or husband who is dominant in decision-making.

I hope you’ll do some work on identifying your top seven key values. I encourage you to challenge the decision-making habits that may not be working for you, and engage a new approach. Also remember that procrastination in not making a decision to act, is indeed a decision.

About the author


Elaine Froese is a Manitoba 150 Woman Trailblazer. She is passionate to guide farm families to find harmony through understanding. Her mission is for you to have rich relationships on your farm. Visit to learn more and book her for speaking engagements at



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