Family Farming Tips: The Right Hire

There is nothing better or worse, more rewarding or frustrating than working with family members in a closely held business. I find which way the pendulum swings often lies in why and how family members were hired and then how or if they were well coached and held to account. 

As I've worked with hundreds of farmers, ranchers and growers, I've learned the percentage of success, longevity and harmony dramatically decreases if family members are not hired as worthy employees, but rather with the philosophy of "you're family so of course you have a job."  And this newly hired family employee is often just "absorbed" into the business because of a genetic connection and not necessarily because there is value brought for the business needs and goals.

This differentiating factor was recently reaffirmed in an intensive study conducted by Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research. Although they were focusing on family-owned franchises, I believe there's much in common with closely held family owned and operated agricultural businesses. The Ball State team found that there was a 6.7% lower sales rate per employee than non-family franchise owners of businesses.  They concluded, "It boils down to the fact that often family-owned franchises have different objectives as compared to their counterparts. The pursuit of economic versus non-economic goals varies. For example, a family-owned franchise may hire family members over non-family employees, who may be superior from a performance standpoint. So, the family members may not do as well, contributing to lower productivity levels, but still getting the same pay." And I might add…they may even receive more pay!

Here's what I know, in good times, profitable times, there may be plenty of money to go around. Tolerance of sloppy or inadequate results or overly paid performance might slip through in the cash flow. …or be ignored.  But as the challenging financial cycles of agriculture are upon us once again, the stresses of dwindling margins, long hours, locked in loan repayments and tight cash flow all remind us there cannot be a "lax time" for right hires and accountability in a family business. Productivity and profitability go hand in hand.  

So, please hire all employees well and hold them to account. Make sure there is a worthy job for a worthy employee. Then coach well.  Be clear so that they know their jobs, the standards they are to meet, and provide them the teaching and tools to achieve. Ask for and give frequent feedback on the progress. Then hold them to account. We'd all like that 6.7% return on our human capital investment.  

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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