Learn to think more dimensionally when making decisions.
Successful farmers are naturally focused on cost, return on investment and efficiency. However, there’s another realm—an unaccounted for realm—that needs your attention. Difficult to describe, it’s that thing that makes your farm not only successful, but the place people want to be.
Working with farmers and ranchers for more than 25 years, Robin Faulkner, Zoetis manager of Beef Veterinary Operations, says this other dimension has to do with business decisions that affect the lives of others and work-life balance.
To help illustrate this dimension, Faulkner describes one of his clients. He was a great businessman and keen to identify profit opportunities, Faulkner says. Knowing that demand for calves is high in June but there’s not a big supply, this cattleman rearranged his breeding and calving season to take advantage of the June market; however, this meant he needed to calve in December. And that’s what he did for years—calve all through December, including Christmas Day.
This cattleman enjoyed time spent with his wife and kids. He shared with Faulkner his disappointment that one holiday season, the kids didn’t come home to the farm. He didn’t understand what could have made them not want to come home; it couldn’t be having to go outside in freezing temperatures and trample through feet of snow to assist a heifer having labor complications.
With artificial insemination and today’s technology, this cattleman could have calved the same number of calves, captured that extra profit opportunity and avoided work during the week of Christmas, making the farm an enjoyable place for all to be during the holidays, Faulkner explains.
While Faulkner’s example relates to family, the principle is easily applied to employees. One of the biggest risks of decision-making is execution and how it relates to human capital, says Steve Hofing of Centric Consulting.
"Think about what you’re doing on your farm and the decisions you make that impact others," Hofing says. "When you’re making decisions, be sure to think multi-dimensionally about the impacts."
Energize the Farm. Peter Senge, a professor at MIT and best-selling author, says that too often, leaders are thought of as "driving change," as if they were operating heavy equipment. "Have you tried to ‘drive’ a teenager?" he asks. "Thinking of leadership as an expression of a living system requires fundamental shifts" with new principles and new perspectives.
"Leadership energizes," Senge says. "Leadership breathes life into an enterprise, without which nothing truly new can emerge. Leadership is about tapping the energy to create. Where this energy exists, we are more engaged, fulfilled and productive. We are more alive."
Academics call this non-linear thinking—the opposite of logical, conventional and traditional thinking. It’s connecting in new ways, with new ideas and new solutions.
"The leadership for decision-making is one of senior managers’ most important responsibilities," adds Bernie Erven, professor emeritus and farm business management expert at The Ohio State University. "The irony is that oftentimes the senior leaders are the most traditional, and if senior leaders aren’t open to creative decisions, then the junior team is even less likely to go there."
How does one begin to implement or practice leadership and non-linear thinking to help benefit the farm?
First, you must understand your business. Mike Mazzocco, an adviser at Verdant Partners, uses the Resource Based View of strategy to describe four pools of resources that combine to uniquely define each firm:
1. Physical: buildings, production capacity, land and location
2. Financial: cash, future cash flow and access to capital
3. Human: employees and partners, training, experience, judgement and capacity
4. Organizational: values, strategy, leadership, knowledge, reputation, innovation, systems and process
Mazzocco says it’s important to recognize that making a change in one of these resource areas will influence the others.
He says one way to think more dimensionally is to consider how your potential decision could impact your SWOT matrix (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). "What are the tradeoffs you’d have to make now and in the future?" he asks.
Peer Power. Mazzocco also recommends running your decision by another person. "That’s the beauty of peer groups," he explains. "You get objective opinions from others and naturally get in a more multi-dimensional mindset."
Ask your team and your employees what they think and listen, Erven says. If you’re not getting the dialogue or discussion you want, assign someone to be the devil’s advocate.
"Just do it," Erven says. "Don’t save practicing multi-dimensional thinking for a big problem. Practice it now so it becomes a part of your culture and feels natural when you do have to make a big decision."
To learn more about decision-making and thinking with a multi-dimensional mindset, experts suggest the following books:
Decide & Deliver: Five Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization, by Marcia Blenko, Michael Mankins and Paul Rogers.
The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, by Peter Senge.