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Taking Advice From Outsiders

2/23/2018 8:42:13 AM by Carissa Shaul

How can a farm or any business for that matter, benefit from the advice of outsiders who know little about that farm or business?

When it comes to crops or livestock, farm people generally find themselves on their own against a lot of forces far bigger and more powerful than they. Standing their ground and surviving makes them veterans of a sort of rural combat. Little wonder they’re so fiercely distrustful – if not disdainful – of outsiders who may not understand. Yet below are a couple reasons why boards and advisers are essential to a farm.

1. If managers protect their jobs and owners protect their wealth, who in the system protects the business?

In the early years of a business, the labor, management, and board are almost one and the same – a tight band in a small canoe. They disagree at times, but surviving the river is the shared challenge. Paddle hard. Keep moving.

With success, that canoe becomes a ship with a crew that mixes retiring founders with successor managers, off-farm heirs, and nonowner employees who are all focused on different decks. They’re all fighting a river big enough to swallow them whole.

The concept of a harbor pilot was invented centuries ago to fill the need for a guide who had the specialized knowledge and experience to protect the ship from bad decisions.

That’s a board’s role in a business: protect the ship by seeing risks the busy crewmates don’t recognize and by helping coordinate their differences in skill and focus.

Occasionally, even an experienced pilot needs help and must make radio contact with experts ashore. Boards find those experts in law and accounting firms, and they’re called professional advisers.

This leads to the second critical question.

2. If we accept the need for advisers, how do we learn to trust them?

Just as you learn to trust anyone else: interact, exchange information, make a few low-level decisions with their guidance, and evaluate the results. If things work, build on that. If not, find other advisers and repeat the process.

Trust is gained by fighting together in the trenches over time. The more time spent, the more is gained.

The best time to engage outsiders was probably a generation ago. The next best time is today.