Farm Horizons, Dec. 2015

I don’t understand Grandpa or Dad

By Myron Oftedahl|
Farm Business Management Instructor, South Central College

This will be another in the series of articles concerning farm succession, and I am directing this to the younger generation, although it will contain information that will be useful to all.

As the younger generation coming back to the farm, how often have you said to your parents or grandparents, “You just don’t understand; you don’t listen to me?”

We have probably all been there at some time, and if we are honest with ourselves, have been just as frustrated as you by the older generation.

As I researched the literature, there is a consistent message that this is the first time that we have four generations in the work force at the same time.

There are a number of factors at work, but primarily the oldest generation is living longer and needs some employment to make retirement work. The youngest generation is entering the work force earlier, and the baby boomers are by far the largest age group within the work force.

All of these factors are the same if we look at farming or an industrial job.

Let’s look at some traits for each group:

• The traditionalist (born 1920-1946) survived two World Wars and the Depression, tend to be hard workers, and are very patriotic. This group prefers a face-to-face meeting, is detail-oriented, and needs to have any change explained thoroughly before they will accept. They tend to have very little technical savvy. Work and family are equally important.

• The Baby Boomer (born 1946-1964) came through a period of change – Vietnam and the ‘70s. Life was good until the retirement accounts got hammered in the ‘90s. This group tends to be better leaders than followers. They have ample knowledge of technology, but prefer a phone call over an e-mail, prefer to have a paper copy of everything. Tend to be the one who will say, “We have always done it this way.” Work can become a priority over family.

• The Gen X’ers (born 1965-1982) are comfortable with technology and prefer e-mails or online meetings. Information needs to be presented in images or graphics, rather than words. Grew up with Nintendo and PacMan. Tend to make group decisions and be more skeptical. Personal or family time is important to this group.

• The Gen Y’ers (born 1983-2002) grew up with technology and social media. Will jump in and feel, experience every bit of technology. Prefer texting, instant messaging, social media. This group needs feedback, needs to feel valued. Speeding up a process, or being more efficient is often their goal. Don’t speak sternly or talk down to them. They work well in teams, and embrace a creative work environment. Personal and family time is crucial with this group.

While not every person is going to fit into a group nicely, these are some well-established patterns of behavior. Some may be very much in one group, and some might cross back and forth between two groups, and that’s OK. What we want to zero in on is how to communicate and work together in a farming situation.

Let’s assume that we have Grandpa, who is a Baby Boomer; Son One, who is a Gen Xer; and Grandson, who is a Gen Y. How can they work together? Grandpa has farmed this way for more than 40 years. Son has been part of the operation for the last 10 years, after working off the farm for 10 years, and probably has some post-secondary education. Grandson is just entering his farming career, after attending two to four years of post-secondary school.

Grandpa controls the checkbook, does most of the marketing, and has the final say for most decisions, while the son is actively involved in management decisions, like choosing seed varieties, machinery decisions, and some day-to-day duties.

You, as the grandson, are coming into the operation as hired labor, because you don’t have any equity to contribute, and have maybe purchased some land using the beginning farmer loans that are available.

You have some ideas as to how things could be done differently; let’s use purchasing a grain cart for an example. You see it as a way to speed up harvest, and tell Dad that it is needed. Dad says that we have to talk to Grandpa. Grandpa says that we have farmed all of these years without one, so why do we need a grain cart now? Grandpa does not want to pay for one.

Now, you get frustrated, because you think that Dad and Grandpa are not listening to you.

How can you approach this differently? Keep in mind that Dad is a Gen X’er, and Grandpa is a Baby Boomer. What traits can you appeal to? Dad will be comfortable with images and technology, and Grandpa is going to want paper and a financial explanation.

Would you have a different outcome if you create a PowerPoint to present to Dad, showing the grain cart in action, and showing the availability of having a scale on the cart, so the farm will have accurate production records and speed up harvest, allowing for more family time?

Then, print the presentation for Grandpa, emphasizing that the cart would speed up harvest and allow more acres to be harvested in the same period of time, while acknowledging that it is a different way to harvest. Give Grandpa the numbers to analyze the costs and potential time savings.

Here is another example, you, as the Gen Y’er, cannot expect Grandpa to text you, as he is going to want to talk to you face-to-face. Grandpa can handle a cell phone, but is probably not interested in the newest iPhone or Android. Keep technology simple for Grandpa; give him written directions on how to use the technology.

Dad will probably text you, but may still prefer to talk on the phone. He will be OK with a smartphone, as he will use it to monitor the markets, maybe take pictures, and use some of the apps.

You cannot imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have a smartphone. You are texting friends, using the apps, playing games, searching the Internet, etc. You probably use the phone to make phone calls the least.

I hope that I have given you some ideas on how to communicate better with the older generations. There is a lot of material out there that further explains the work habits and other traits of the different generations. You are being heard by Dad and Grandpa, you just may need to approach it differently in order to sell that new idea to them.

As Dr. David Kohl explains, “You are what you grew up with.”

Great-grandpa grew up during the Depression, so saving is critical. You may need it someday, and don’t trust the banks.

Grandpa grew up during the great move to urbanization and the Vietnam War, so doesn’t have a great trust in government, and has seen much change in his life.

Dad grew up in a period of prosperity and has some feelings of entitlement. Dad grew up with video games and the beginning of the computer age.

You grew up after the financial crashes of the ‘80s and ‘90s. You had computers all through school, and accept the fast pace of information globally.

So, you, as the youngest generation, needs to understand the dynamics of the other generations. Use your creativity, use the technology to research and support a change that you would like to see happen. Frame the information so that it is acceptable to the other generations. If you are going to suggest a change, put in the effort to research it and offer solutions, instead of saying, “This is a dumb way to do this.”

It is not unusual for the younger generations to push the older generations; it has happened for years, maybe centuries.

Grandpa is looking forward to retirement, Dad is hitting his prime work years, and you need to justify your place among the farm operation.

You want to be more than hired help. Identify your strengths. Are there things that you do better than Dad or Grandpa? Are you the best with technology, the best mechanic, have the best agronomic skills, have financial capabilities, or have production or financial record skills?

Use your skills to identify your responsibilities for the farm operation. All of you will benefit, if everyone can use their strengths for the farm operation.

All generations can benefit if they understand the traits for each generation. Identify what is important to them, and how they prefer to be communicated with. Sometimes a little understanding goes a long way.

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