Bulletproof your Farm
By Andy Junkin
128 pages / Published independently
If you find yourself in a situation where the family farm business must rapidly change in order to survive, but every partner is fighting for control and not listening to each other, what can you do to motivate everyone to make necessary, life-saving changes?
Andy Junkin, a self-styled “farm turnaround specialist” and author of Bulletproof your Farm, has first-hand experience with dysfunctional decision-making on a farm. His goal is to help farmers evolve their business culture to “make the right decisions that will bulletproof your farm against any tough times… (and) give your farm a competitive edge so your family will still be farming in 2040 and beyond!”
His three bulletproofing tips — (1) simplify the complexity of decision-making with multiple partners; (2) turn working with family from a weakness to a core, competitive strength; and (3) cultivate a business culture that can make multiple partners into an indestructible, bulletproof team that can take on the world — are structured to radically improve how family members make decisions together and work towards the same goals.
Junkin says that most people in the agriculture industry argue it’s the economies of scale that determine which farms succeed and which will fail. He says, however, it’s less about the cards you are dealt than how you play them. After all, “you [can] always make excuses about how you could be more efficient if you were bigger.”
What he’s found is that pride often takes priority over business.
“Miscommunication and egos impact the farm’s bottom line more than the markets and weather together,” says Junkin.
“If a family doesn’t take the time to talk about — and agree on — a precise end destination, its members will always end up miserable, in a spot where no one wants to be.”
Junkin suggests looking at the “why” before the “what.” Consider why you need to make certain changes before deciding what changes need to be made. The “why” is the common end goal that all business partners should work towards in the interest of sustaining and growing the business. The “what” helps everyone achieve it.
To highlight the why and develop the what, step one must be to pinpoint the business’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) — and Junkin suggests that you spray paint it on the shop door where everyone can see it, every day, as a constant reminder of what you’re working towards.
Through his years of consulting, Junkin has found that family power struggles can be eliminated by rallying around a simple BHAG. While everyone might express a goal differently, ultimately, family members all have the same end goal: a thriving and profitable farm business. Distilling it into an easy-to-remember, inspirational mantra keeps everyone accountable and on track.
In addition to a BHAG, he walks families through his Farm 10 Commandments exercise to help them identify and adopt rules for working together. The tenets of evolved decision-making and accountability play a critical role in farm success. The ability to solve problems as a team and recognize that everyone has bad habits that can cause problems and affect business growth can generate stability for a tenuous situation.
“If you want to turn around a family farm within six months,” Junkin says, “it’s not done by looking at the farm’s financials first. It’s done by the farmers themselves changing internally.”
If you can get each partner to acknowledge that five per cent of their character or behaviour has to change for the good of the farm, he says, “you can transform any farm business overnight.”
“You won’t ever have the perfect farm,” says Junkin. “Get over that idea. It’s that idea that creates imperfections that fester and never get solved.” Instead, address how you problem-solve.
This will take time. Changing the fundamentals of the business culture won’t happen in an instant. But if you can embrace your failures proactively and collectively, and get better at problem-solving as a team, Junkin says you’ll gain a competitive edge over other farm businesses. Eventually, you will reduce the number of problems that surface and the circular, unproductive conversations and non-decisions holding your business back.
“You can be the smartest farmer in the world,” says Junkin, “however, if you can’t get everyone pulling in the same direction, then you get nowhere fast!”