Family Business Matters 10/27 05:10
A Pandemic Blessing: Margin Redefined
A new perspective provides a noneconomic meaning to this business term.
DTN Farm Business Adviser
In business, the concept of margin implies some remaining amount of revenue
or profit after accounting for expenses and is reflected in terms like "gross
margin" or "profit margin." But the word "margin" is also used in another way,
according to a book titled "Margin," by Dr. Richard Swenson. He defines it as
"the space between our load and our limits." In other words, how do we take
time, in the midst of our busy lives, to invest in long-term activities that
improve our relationships, nourish our spirits and add a noneconomic "margin"
to our lives?
Today's family farm or ranch is a hub of urgent activity focused on the
financial margins. Family members wear multiple hats while supervising other
people, managing millions of dollars in assets and reacting on short notice to
unexpected market swings or weather events. The attention to operational and
financial health -- the load -- often comes at the expense of personal and
When we asked people about some of the unexpected benefits of the COVID
pandemic, they told us one of the silver linings was a form of margin: the
chance to work with their school-aged kids (or grandkids) in the business.
Because of school cancellations in the spring, young people had a chance to
help with planting or livestock management, continuing into summer work. The
pandemic, while not creating any less workload, offered a chance, via family
involvement, to incorporate life margins with business margins. Consider some
of the following effects this might have.
A sad fact of our modern life is the absence of parents from their kids'
lives, especially in the teenage years. I often hear adults describe how their
parents were not around or did not participate in their lives when they were
kids. I know firsthand that parents don't generally want to be absent, but the
demands of owning a small business, especially in agriculture, often take time
away from school events, vacations or other meaningful interactions. This
pandemic gave many families a chance to experience both work and more leisurely
activities together, thereby building relationships with one another.
RESPECT FOR GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES
One of the results of current education and sports models is that farm and
ranch kids are at school or on the court or field for most of the daylight
hours. Couple that absence with differences in communication styles and work
preferences, and the gaps between generations grow larger. However, with remote
education and limited athletics, family members have had a chance to better
understand and appreciate the approach each generation brings to its work.
Perhaps in the future, we'll see more compliments and fewer complaints between
generations in the workforce.
MORE YOUNG PEOPLE IN AGRICULTURE
As young people have worked longer hours in the business, they've had a
chance to see the range of technical and business skills necessary to lead a
modern farming or ranching enterprise. We won't know immediately, of course,
but the time spent and insights gathered on the farm this past spring and
summer may lead a few more people to consider returning to the business and,
thus, continue the legacy of the family enterprise.
We all know that creating more time, or in noneconomic margin terms,
increasing "the limit," is impossible. But we can redesign how our time is
spent. The COVID pandemic did just that for most families around the world. For
farm and ranch families, the blessing of more family time, even while working,
may pay unexpected dividends for years to come.
Write Lance Woodbury at Family Business Matters, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite
415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email email@example.com.
(c) Copyright 2020 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.
Your local weather forecast from DTN can be sent to your email every morning free through DTN Snapshot