A Code of Expected Behavior (or Code or Conduct or Communication Pledge) is a starting point on how everyone wishes everyone would communicate with one another, what is expected and acceptable behavior and what is not.
Your business has a standard of conduct, whether you know it or not. One way or another your family business communicates its values, acceptable behavior and criteria for decision-making every day, whether it is in writing or not. The way you and your teammates talk with each, how you share information and how decisions are made already exist. Whether they are deliberately planned or just happen and whether they are desirable and productive are a matter of chance.
As with most things in life and business…things change. Therefore, these things are not written in stone and can be edited as time marches on. If you have been with us for a while, you know that this article is only about one component of your family farm’s communication platform, which in turn is an important part of creating a professional management system for your family business
"Circumstances are beyond human control, but our conduct is in our own power."
As with the foundational vision, mission and core values statements, a large benefit to creating this agreed upon Communication Platform is the time spent working with one another, learning more about your partners and future successors and helping keep each other accountable for what everyone states they want to accomplish (vision), how it will be accomplished (mission) and under what philosophical belief system (core values). The key is that you work on this together and reach a consensus. It builds trust.
For example, is it acceptable that a successor in a senior management position takes on a major commitment in a voluntary role with an industry association? Yes, no, maybe. If it takes time away and significantly impacts job performance and the business, maybe not. If the activity complements the business and leads to further education and networking opportunities and the business can handle the departure, then maybe it should be pursued.
How about sharing in or simply disclosing outside investment opportunities? Full and open disclosure among business partners seems prudent. But, if you have never discussed it, how can everyone be on the same page? You can’t be, necessarily.
"The most successful multi-generation family businesses share outside business activity and investments with one another. "
How would you feel if your business partner invests in something, doesn’t share it with you, then makes a killing and now has millions and millions? Of course you would be happy for him…but there might also be a little bitterness. When big discrepancies in personal wealth develop between business partners, especially siblings and cousins, it can become more difficult to keep the team together. There is also the trust-building factor that is accompanied with the sharing of outside investment opportunities. Sharing helps create and foster the spirit of generosity, “team” and looking out for one another.
These were some simple examples of outside business activities to be discussed and agreed upon. If you put your mind to it, I am certain you could come up with a dozen other areas.
So give it a whirl. See what you and your family business team members come up in these two areas of your farm management system – A Code of Expected Behavior and an Outside Business Activity Guideline. While doing so, try to pay attention to the benefits of the actual process, as much as the final prepared documents. Because that is where the real value is derived…working together. Good luck!