Parents’ expectations are not clarified

The Problem (submitted by W.B.)

I’m a young farmer who graduated with a double major in farm management and agronomy. I worked at our local co-op for two years, and last year, my parents asked me to return home to farm. This was my ultimate goal, too. I’m a hard worker, willing to learn, and eager to please my dad. I do the jobs well, but I’m quickly
realizing I can’t do anything right in his eyes – yet I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to do. When I ask Dad what he wants me to do differently, he replies, “You should know. You have that college degree and grew up on this farm. I shouldn’t have to tell you what needs to be done.” It sure would help to have some leadership and communication around here. I’m about ready to throw in the towel and find a job where my work is appreciated. Can you help?


The Ideal Solution: 

Oh, dear. You are getting a performance evaluation without even knowing your job! It sounds like there is no productive process of evaluation for training and growth. If this business wants to be sustainable with motivated and learning employees, there is a better way; namely, an evaluation process that is extremely beneficial to productivity, profitability, and the people doing the work.  

The leader of your business (Dad) will need to expand his vision of a one-man show with additional labor to a growing business with new and eager employees. This is a major shift requiring the leader to clarify the responsibilities and provide a clear job description, including expectations and standards. Then an evaluation conversation would include these points: 

  • What are the primary strengths you contribute to this business?
  • In what areas could you improve your performance?
  • Do you have any ideas that might make your job and this business even better?
  • How can I help you do your job better?
  • What is the plan to improve your skills and abilities?
  • What are the key goals you want to accomplish in the coming year?
  • Your signatures and the date.

The Reality Solution: 

You will need to take the lead. Ask Dad for an hour of time or show up at his house in the early evening and begin with the following underlying questions you really want to ask:

  • Dad, are you glad I came back to the farm? 
  • How do you feel I am doing?  
  • What can I do better to make you satisfied and happy? 
  • Would you like some ideas on what would be helpful in order for me to do that? 
  • I sense you are resentful that I went to college. Am I right? Is it the expense or that I learned innovative production practices that might help the bottom line on our farm? 
  • Dad, I am proud of you and grateful for this opportunity to farm. Are you proud of me?

Depending on those answers, you may want to proceed by preparing your current job description, based on what you are doing and a second one detailing where you think you might add more value.

Keep that heart of a student by letting him know you have much more to learn and you want to make sure you are the employee the farm deserves.

Does this take time and a commitment of purpose? Yes. 

I’ve found that successful family businesses understand that working on the business makes for better working in the business. They deal with concerns, conflicts, performance, and goals. 

When done well, this builds teamwork, honors everyone’s contributions, corrects behaviors at a minor (not crisis) level, appreciates good value, and encourages continuous strong performance for both the leader and the employee. 

By working on the business, you are truly honoring the family by doing the business right!

Jolene Brown is a professional speaker, author, farmer, and family business consultant. She shares her passion, experience, and fun-filled spirit with farmers and ranchers across North America. Her tested business tools provide leadership and management solutions for the people who feed, clothe, and fuel the world.

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