It got to the point that every time Parker saw Beau’s phone number on his cell’s call display, his gut turned over because he knew his brother was going to yell at him about something else again.
They hadn’t had a pleasant conversation in months, and Beau treated his younger brother Parker like a “rented mule.” It was always a “Henny Penny, the sky is falling” type of crisis, and the volume quickly got cranked to 10 over silly things.
NOT WITH THAT JERK
It got to the point Parker was thinking of splitting the partnership with his brother and walking away from the farm, and from everything if necessary. Beau was oblivious to the sins of his behavior and thought what he was doing was normal and necessary. Beau had unrealistic expectations (you need to do the job perfectly every time) and a false sense of self-righteousness (I am smarter than you, so you need to do it my way).
The brothers had been close and always spent Parker’s birthday together at the cottage. Beau had just broken up with his long-term girlfriend and, as a surprise gift for Parker’s birthday, blew the money he had set aside for an engagement ring on a speed boat. But Parker didn’t bother to show up, making an excuse that his fiancée had arranged a surprise. Truthfully, Parker had been yelled at for four of the last seven days by his brother over stupid stuff, and the last thing he wanted to do was “spend it with that jerk.”
Their dad called me in to sort out the situation between the two brothers who, just a few years ago, were best friends. The dad had trouble farming with his own brothers a decade prior. He was really worried the boys wouldn’t be talking to each other, let alone farming together, in a few years.
FROM TEN COMMANDMENTS TO THREE SHORT RULES
I got them to read my book Bulletproof Your Farm. In the back of this book, there is an appendix with 50 simple phrases any farm can adapt as rules. I got each family member to identify five to seven phrases out of the list of 50 that best applied to their situation. We then compared each brother’s answers. It was no surprise that they had independently picked several of the same rules. From these rules they selected, we came up with a list of “10 commandments” and got them to post these commandments on their kitchen fridge and in the shop. Each week, we identified one rule they were struggling with – and then, in a non-confrontational way, we implemented practical changes of how they could better work together.
After six weeks, common patterns developed, and we were able to sum up these problems in only three short rules:
1. Nobody is smarter than the other guy; we make all major decisions together.
2. Always be the partner and friend anyone would want to have.
3. Say what you’ll do and then do what you say.
It’s great to come up with 10 rules, but when you can filter it down to your three biggest it’s a game-changer. There is something about the rule of threes that causes things to stick.
Now these rules might seem simple to you, but for this farm family, this hit the nerve of their biggest weaknesses. The rule: “Always be the partner and friend anyone would want to have” was big. By constantly being jerks to one another, communication was at an all-time low, leading to a lot of decisions not being made and profit slipping through the cracks. Employee morale was extremely low, and they had a very high staff turnover, leading to very shoddy work. The place was falling apart at the seams.
In one of our first meetings, the emotions of Beau buying a boat to surprise his brother for his birthday and his brother not even showing up came up. Parker shot back, “Who wants to spend their birthday with a guy who treats me like garbage all the time?” Beau had a stunned look on his face as he digested that concept. From that moment, that rule got adapted, and it fundamentally changed not just Beau’s behavior, but everyone else’s on the farm. Both Dad and Parker recognized they had moments they struggled too and worked to fix their weaknesses.
It not only impacted how the family treated one another, but how they treated farm employees. Employee turnover dropped dramatically in the years after, leading to higher-quality workmanship.
MAKING YOUR RULES STICK
Now here is the key thing: If we had just one meeting where we had come up with three rules and put them into meeting minutes, it would have been forgotten about in a few weeks and they’d continue to have problems. There are three things they did you should consider doing that made their farm’s rules stick.
1. Engrave it: I had these three rules engraved on the inside of three custom-made wallets. I’m a huge believer that out of sight means out of mind. If they had their rules written in a business plan, meeting minutes or on some piece of paper, they would have forgotten them within two weeks. By them having these rules “in their face” every time they opened their wallets, the rules got embedded into their minds and into their hearts. It became principles they lived by.
2. Daily journaling: Each day, I had them fill out a journal page for about five minutes as they took their boots off and called it quits for the night. If you read the best business books, like Tim Ferris’ Tools of Titans, you’ll see that almost every successful entrepreneur featured in his book also wrote in a daily journal. It works.
As part of the journaling, I had Parker, Beau and Dad write out the three rules every day. Then they had to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 on how good of a job they did on that rule that day. To honestly (and I mean don’t kid yourself) assess yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 on how good you did with “being the partner anyone would want to have” will sometimes lead to low scores, especially when you first start assessing your own behavior. However, over time, you start to really be critical of your own actions and self-correct your behavior. Instead of your partners having to nag or cuss at you, you’ll do it yourself. And if each partner goes through the same process, man it’s amazing how quickly habits/behaviors can change.
3. Weekly improvement: Each Monday afternoon, I meet with this family over Zoom, and that is the time and place we solve a few business problems. I have them open their wallets at the beginning of each meeting, and the rules sit in front of them for that half-hour. At the beginning of each meeting, the family identifies one rule they are struggling with, and we have a five-minute discussion on how to improve. For example, last week a simple improvement related to “be the partner you’d want to have” came up in the conversation. The brothers were constantly forgetting when they had appointments with sales reps, staff or each other, which was obviously disrespectful and unprofessional toward everyone. We got the brothers to share a common farm business calendar on their cellphones so partners could see each other’s schedules and be reminded of upcoming appointments. Easy. If each week you can make little improvements, your farm will be a different place to work at in a year.
COMPLAINING TO PROBLEM-SOLVING
What happened with this family? Three months later, I got a text from Parker which read: “We’ve had good-mood Beau for about a week now; it’s been nice.”
What blew me away was the next day getting a phone call from their father: “Beau is talking about problem-solving instead of just talking about problems. This is the guy I can actually work with over the next decade.”
Not many months before this, Beau’s father had met with his lawyer to look at the technicalities of how he could fire his son because he was plain tired of the negativity. So this statement was profound.
They have grown by 600 acres to 1,200 acres in the four years I’ve worked with them. They have an intense vegetable operation, and they now have over 200 employees around harvest. They’ve been able to double their farm size over the last four years instead of imploding – because these methods have worked. True, it might seem silly to you to journal, but I’m certain you’d wear pink underwear if you could get the same results. Why not evolve the culture on your farm from good to great and get those culture-changing rules engraved in your minds and wallets?