7 Differentiators of a successful farm business, part 2

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A couple of weeks ago I began identifying a list of seven differentiators Water Street Solutions has identified over the years as being qualities of the more successful farm businesses we’ve encountered over the years. I began by identifying the first two: They use their organization’s Core Values to drive business decisions; and they have established a well-defined vision for the future of the business, and their actions serve to keep them on track with that vision. Today I’ll touch on two more of these differentiators.

Differentiator 3: The brain power of the team
Let’s think for a moment about what keeps us from fully utilizing people as a resource available to us.

Think about how your dad managed situations around the farm. Depending on his age, he may have been a command-and-control type of manager. Business has changed. This management mindset needs to change too.

Today our operations are much more complex. We need to extract every morsel of mental capacity from our employees, our family members and our trusted suppliers for the purpose of achieving our vision.

As people are included in the planning process, they begin to own their part of executing that farm vision. They internalize it. We have all seen that ourselves as we have served on boards or committees in town. When we are part of the creation process, the plan then becomes our belief system and we will do a better job of making things happen.

One reason we have not previously tapped into the resources at hand could be our fear of the unknown. If we have not seen this modeled for us, we may be afraid of sharing where we’re headed or what we’re doing.

Typically, transparency is a better approach. To have the competitive advantage, you must bring people together with diverse experience and tap into their talents to achieve the goal. They can help us with the “how” part. We have a client that’s good at this. Every year, they bring together their trusted suppliers to make sure everyone is on the same page in helping the operation advance toward their vision.

How can you move in this direction? First, determine who you trust. Start small. Test out some situations where you can create plans together. Everyone takes on some responsibility for a part of the plan and is ac-countable for the outcome.

Share your vision by creating a picture of where the business is going and work together on how you’ll get there. Tap into the expertise.

Differentiator 4: Take action and learn
Successful farming operations are those whose leaders are not afraid to take action. Behavioral economists say we, as humans, rarely ever learn from failure.

You hear all the time that failure is the best teacher and you must learn from your mistakes. The fact of the matter is that our brains hardly ever let us do that. We take action, fail and then ignore it because we don’t want to dive into the pain of analyzing our failure. The key to this is self-awareness.

Research with high school students determined that students had the ability to predict the outcome of their friends’ relationships by multiples compared to their ability to predict the outcome of their own relationships. We’re more objective with other people. We can see more clearly. So we have to bring some outsiders in to rattle our cage and give us a new perspective.

When it comes to mistakes, one of the things that we have to control is our response. Think about a time you made a mistake on the farm as a kid. For me, it was burying a tractor in the mud. Even though it was a long time ago I can remember it very clearly, probably because of the response that came from my dad and my older brother.

Dad’s response was certainly not, “Well, what can we learn from this?” How many of our fathers had that response? When things go wrong or not exactly as planned, the only true failure is when we don’t take the time to learn.

John Wooden, head coach of the amazingly successful UCLA basketball team in the 1960s and ‘70s, was a great leader. One of his insightful sayings was, “The team with the most mistakes wins.” He said there are two kinds of mistakes—mistakes of commission and mistakes of omission.

The mistakes of omission are the mistakes of being paralyzed—of doing nothing. With mistakes of commission the philosophy is, “Let’s make the mistake early, let’s learn from it, and let’s get better.” But our habit is to avoid mistakes at all costs and that leads us to take no action. That’s a mistake of omission.

What can we do? We can think about our response to mistakes, both to ourselves and the people around us—and that will affect our work culture. Make yours a culture of learning.


UPDATE: Jump to part 3