Understand ‘why’ when facing management challenges

The following is an excerpt taken from an email I received from a farmer.

“I just a had a scenario where I had two guys (employees) standing in my office doorway telling me two different things.

“Guy 1 — We have US$1,300,000 hedged at 76.2 cents. We should look at our strategy on Monday. The market has shifted. ($100,000 decision)

“Guy 2 — We need toilet paper for the bathroom, furnace filters and a new mop pail. ($10 decision)

“This is the whole premise of why I’m frustrated with my current structure/business model.”

Does this sound familiar? I think likely. It’s part in parcel with running a small to medium-sized business, such as a farm.

For many farms, though, it correlates to a decision not to expand to where full-time employees are required.

This doesn’t mean that decisions don’t appear. It’s about having two employees asking for the decisions. Many farms just don’t want to deal with that. Which is totally OK.

But for farms that have grown to where full-time employees are a reality, the need exists to attend to the management of what they’re doing.

This requires time and focus and to the point made above, time and focus away from where it should be being applied. How do you break through those management hurdles?

I think there’s a pattern of going through the motions year in and year out with never really questioning why things are the way they are. The most important word in that sentence I think is “really.”

Many farms will talk a lot about what they do and express concern or dissatisfaction with the status quo. But that discussion is often relatively superficial.

It is very difficult to effect change. and the more substantive the change, typically the more difficult it is to make.

Without really asking why, what context then do they have to engage in a discussion about making meaningful change? So, to then expect different outcomes is problematic.

To me, if you’re not satisfied with what you’re doing, work to change it.

There are two futures in life. The one that will inevitably come along and the other one that anyone can work to “make come along.” I absolutely understand that this is easily written but much more challenging to do in real life.

But seriously, I think that it’s important to critically ask the “why.” Raise the question or challenge, think critically about it, discuss it with the appropriate team members and then apply outcomes from the discussions directly or indirectly in what you’re doing. You have to be willing to make changes — sometimes significant changes.

A caution, though, is not to make changes simply for the effect of making changes.

The latter is why I think it’s so important to work to articulate what the longer-term strategy is — to write it down, even if it were to change (and it will).

Writing it down crystallizes your thinking, and by doing that, it becomes foundational to the changes that are ultimately going to come along as your business is expanding or transitioning.

It’s not easy to break through the challenges identified in the email excerpt above. Small to medium sized businesses are exactly that —small to medium sized businesses. Resources, such as human (time), financial and technical are limited in all farms.

This is going to sound like it comes right out of a textbook, but it works. Writing down (which doesn’t have to be long or fancy) what you want the future to look like requires everyone to focus and agree on what it is they are working toward.

This is an important first step. A next step is to assign roles and responsibilities to the things that need to get done — relative to any degree of change — moving forward.

This will help to create a base line that can be used to push through the management hurdles.

Two other extremely important things are required: you obviously must be willing to give up control on certain management related issues, and you need active communication.

Talking about things while you walk to the shop, or from tractor to tractor, is not active communication.

There’s nothing wrong with these discussions, but if you want to make meaningful change, you need to prioritize the time to talk about how the business is being managed.

Without this, it’s just too easy to fall back into old patterns and end up talking to Guy 2, who is reminding you that you need to buy toilet paper.

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