Recent News

For ag families, family businesses, communication tools can help reduce conflict

Posted in ,   |  January 23, 2024

For family and ag businesses, communication, adversity and conflict can be inherent struggles – but also manageable ones.

Siblings Megan Hammond, Jackson Hegerfeld and Amanda Lauer have lived it both in their own family businesses and as they help others. The third-generation family business leaders help lead both Brookings-based BankStar Financial and Advantage Land Co.

As land brokers, auctioneers and business lenders, they’ve seen plenty of situations where communication and planning could help avoid family conflict.

“Every family situation is different, but one common theme in ag families and just families in general is that they don’t like to talk business with one another, especially when it comes to difficult conversations,” Hegerfeld said.

The siblings can relate. They’re working through an ownership transition with their parents and have had to hone their own communication strategies along the way.

“We grew up on the farm, and it’s a different world. You don’t talk about things,” Lauer said. “We didn’t even talk about the bank growing up. I do think there’s a generational divide where they aren’t good at having hard conversations, but I also think we’ve all done a good job opening that communication up.”

The siblings, along with expert guest presenters Travis Benson of Thompson Law and Karl Oehlke of Avera, shared their insights at a webinar on Jan. 31  through the Prairie Family Business Association. Thompson Law is a Visionary Sponsor of PFBA, and Avera is a Transition Sponsor.

“Communication is one of six content themes we are focusing on in 2024, along with innovation, leadership, strategy, succession and culture,” said Stephanie Larscheid, executive director of the Prairie Family Business Association.

“It’s fitting to start our year by talking about communication. It leads into family harmony, which is one of the top predictors of success within family business.”

For the siblings, some basic strategies have led to communication success.

“More family meetings,” Hegerfeld said. “Everybody likes to keep things close to the chest, like they’re playing poker, but at the end of the day if you don’t know what each person is thinking, you can’t get on the same page, and things don’t get resolved.”

Don’t be afraid to have the tough talks but also be open to asking for help, Lauer added.

“Have the conversation. Listen. Be honest and open,” she said. “We found ourselves at times where we needed a facilitator, and that really helped with the hard conversations. Sometimes, it still feels like we spin our wheels, but have an agenda and schedule regular meetings.”

As generations transition, planning is critical, Hammond said.

“When we work with clients, the instances where parents – the people who own the land or own the business – have made a decision about what’s going to happen and how they’re going to transition generally are the situations that go best for the entire family,” she said.

“At least they made a decision and didn’t leave it up to the next generation to disagree. You can respect that they made the decision, even if you don’t agree with it.”

Lauer agreed.

“We see it at the bank when family businesses haven’t put a plan in place,” she said. “It is hard, but the family will ultimately stay more bonded because there’s clarity and there’s not going to be any surprise in the end and nothing to fight out.”

For her own family, “Prairie Family Business is the best resource ever for us or for any business,” Lauer added. “You’re around like-minded people. You don’t have to do it all yourself. You have people to talk to and lean on and support you, and you’re able to build really good relationships.”

There are proven processes to help guide families, said Travis Benson of Thompson Law.

“Do not be the silent generation. You have to break that cycle,” he said. “We know attorneys can be intimidating, but we’re going to start the conversation talking to Mom and Dad about what keeps you up at night – your goals, concerns and anxiety – and get you to a place where the whole family feels more settled and positive about the future.”

For ag families, the demands of the industry can bring additional pressure, added Karl Oehlke, a physician assistant with Avera Medical Group who’s also a farmer.

“There often are conversations about what is fair versus what is equal, especially when you consider the sweat equity many people have put into the operation,” he said. “Sometimes, a farm can’t support multiple families, or you have in-laws coming in and changing practices. And on top of that, you’re operating in an environment that has high suicide rates and people who might be reluctant to seek care.”

At Oehlke’s suggestion, Avera now offers a free Farm and Rural Stress Hotline at 800-691-4336. An online operator will take inventory of your needs and direct you to local mental health care, which may include talk therapy and/or medication management. You can call anonymously, and your insurance will not be notified.

“These are the kinds of resources and best practices we’re excited to share with ag families and family businesses,” Larscheid said. “This webinar is one of many opportunities throughout the year to strengthen their personal and professional health.”

The hourlong webinar is free for Prairie Family Business Association members and first-time guests, but registration is required to receive a link. Click here to sign see upcoming webinars.

Farm Family Forum

This year’s Prairie Family Business Association Annual Conference in Sioux Falls will include a new Farm Family Forum the day prior, on April 16. It will feature Elaine Froese, a certified professional speaker, coach and author with more than 40 years of experience in helping farm families navigate the intricacies of communication, conflict resolution and successful farm transitions.

Known as “Canada’s Farm Whisperer” and a farmer and mother herself, she has become a go-to expert in helping families achieve harmony through understanding. Click here to learn more about the Farm Family Forum. 

Scroll to Top