Communication: Build Up or Blow Up

"I know it's going to be difficult when the first time a family has sat down together to discuss succession planning is at the reading of the will." These were the words shared by an attorney as we talked about family business communication….and lack of it.

It's a challenge to discuss and make decisions about complicated issues or during tense times if there have not been clear expectations and follow through for daily communication.

As I work with families who want to build a business worthy of transitioning, one of the first management tools that is explored and adopted is the "Contract to Communicate Clear Expectations." 

Here are some of the key elements:

This family business team has been intentionally hired and we are counting on each other to do our jobs. The standards and expected results have been discussed and are clear. We will not micromanage each other, but there will be many interactions to make sure we have what we need to do our work and that the expected results are happening.

All of us have agreed to be approachable. We can go to each other for questions, new ideas, assistance and encouragement. We understand that mind-reading is not an acceptable form of communication.

Communication in this business takes many forms - coaching, complimenting, receiving feedback and keeping each other informed. It is important to talk about behaviors and results without personal attacks on individuals.

What is said in our business stays in our business. We will praise in public and correct in private. This means we will productively address issues of conflict amongst ourselves.  

Everyone on this team is expected to have a good attitude. This means we smile and treat each other well. Yes, we all have our bad days, but we expect generally positive attitudes from everyone.

No one is exempt from these communication expectations. This means those who lead, manage and work here have agreed that this is what we want. And each of us are asking to be held to account. 


Communication between family members in business, and family members in general, need to go beyond the norm of ignoring, assuming, hoping and accepting habits. Communication is truly the link to productivity and profitability. It is also the link to honor the family by doing the business right.


Jolene Brown is a farmer, professional speaker, author and champion for the family owned business. She's from West Branch, Iowa, USA, and travels worldwide sharing leading-edge best practices that have the power to increase productivity, profitability and peace of mind. Her passion combined with her fun-filled spirit and valuable information brings humor, hope and helpful ideas to the people of agriculture. Jolene's books, "Holy Crap! I Married a Farmer!" Joy-filled Lessons Connecting Our Sisters in Agricultureand Sometimes You Need More Than a 2x4! How-to-tips to successfully grow a family business are available online at  For more information and to check out her speaking availability, contact her at

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