Defining critical issues helps farmers achieve a vision

We’re nicely into January. How are you making out with your New Year’s resolutions?

I managed to escape the ritual this year. We had a bunch of family visiting and everyone got busy and we forgot to make our yearly declarations.

On the plus side, that means I haven’t had to break my resolutions. Accountability can be nasty.

Seriously though, introducing accountability can significantly increase the likelihood that what is being committed to will actually get done. After all, that’s what’s important, isn’t it — getting things done?

Everyone is busy, busy at getting things done, but how often do you check to see if you’re getting the right things done — the important things?

If we were going to come back to this discussion a year from now, what would you have had to have accomplished in the year to result in some significant and meaningful progress — to affect some real change if that’s what’s needed? Those really important things are referred to as critical issues.

Critical issues are defined as the things that are extremely important to the farm business and ultimately, the farm family. They connect present and future performance and related accomplishments. These key factors are highly correlated to the achievement of a vision.

Farmers address management issues all the time. Some, though, are more critically important. They are issues of such importance that if one or more of them are not executed successfully, the farm may not achieve the results it potentially could. Or, even worse in some situations, failure to address them could threaten the farm’s future.

Typically, issues critically important to the success of a business are those for which action(s) can be taken. For example, weather may be a critical issue for many farms, but for which specific action(s) may not be possible. In other words, the focus should be on the critical issues that can actually be managed.

A critical issue in most situations should not have an obvious solution. If it does, likely the issue identified deals with a symptom and not the root of the issue. Not addressing an issue at its root will result in actions planned and taken but actions that are not necessarily aligned with what needs to get done to get the farm to where the owners and managers want it to be.

No one purposefully sets out to do something that will work at cross purposes to longer-term success. Farm families will usually do things right, but not necessarily the right things.

Critical issues affect a farm’s performance and can form barriers in working toward the farm’s vision. They are the things that you, your family and/or your management team must get right to achieve both short- and long-term objectives.

There are benefits to be gained in identifying issues of critical importance to the success of your farm:

  • Coming to consensus on the issues will help in prioritizing what needs to get done. The day-to-day urgencies of managing a farm tend to take priority. But they may not be what is important in the longer term. Without identifying what’s important in the longer term, what gets done may not necessarily be what needs to be done.
  • The determination of a farm’s critical issues can help to mitigate potential conflict stemming from disagreements on what family members think is important, especially from a farm business management perspective.

Identifying the challenges that are of critical importance on your farm can be difficult. Farmers can look at each of the main management areas — operations, marketing, human resources and finance. A general rule of thumb is to restrict or narrow down a list to between three and five issues. Too long a list runs the risk of there not being enough time to spend on each issue.

I’ve observed farm businesses set critical issues and come back six months later, only to see that no progress has been made on the resolutions. On the other hand, I’ve observed farms where the issues were identified, specific action was taken and evidence of progress made.

Take some time to think about those three or four things on your farm that, where properly identified and then with steps taken to address them, could really make a difference in achieving longer-term outcomes.

Terry Betker, P.Ag, is a farm management consultant based in Winnipeg. He can be reached at 204-782-8200 or terry.betker@backswath.com.

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