Shared business vision is essential to dynamic partnerships
Most large, commercial dairies have evolved from solely owned, single proprietorships led by strong leaders into multi-person, sometimes intergenerational partnerships. Managing such enterprises becomes impossible if partners lack a common vision.
Bob Milligan, a former Cornell University farm management specialist and now a senior business consultant with Dairy Strategies, LLC, has always been a strong advocate of businesses having written mission and vision statements. But now, having worked with farms on a consulting basis for the past 10 years, he says it is even more important to have those documents than when he taught it in the classroom.
"Most farm businesses have a vision—a reason why they are in business—but with multiple partners and employees, that vision has be articulated, shared and used in decision making," he says.
Without a common vision, it will be almost impossible to reach agreement on most decisions. Without it, each partner filters a decision through their individual goals rather than a shared vision of the business, Milligan says.
"Every decision becomes a disagreement over the vision for the business if you don’t agree on a common vision," he says. That will lead to irreconcilable differences and great difficulty in working together.
"If you analyze most partnership failures and break-ups, the root cause is failure to agree on the vision," Milligan says.
Having a common vision, therefore, is critical. But it’s also just the first step in having functional, effective and dynamic partnerships.
The goal of many partnerships is simply to get along, but that’s not really setting the bar high enough to get the most out of the partnership or the business, Milligan says.
There’s a huge difference between compromise and collaboration. Compromise may be sufficient to keep the business going, but collaboration will keep it vibrant and growing.
"Discussion, dialogue and debate should be encouraged and viewed as constructive," Milligan says. It’s only through this process that you get synergy—where the strengths of each partner add up to more than the sum of those individuals.
"Henry Ford said that if you have two people on a team who always agree, only one is needed," he adds.
For partnerships to work, each partner must believe they have some input into key decisions. And once the discussion is held and a decision reached, each partner must rally behind that decision.
It’s not that the group won’t ever make a mistake, because inevitably it will, Milligan says. But if decisions are made properly, each partner can take ownership in success when it occurs and shoulder some of the blame for failures. That kind of buy-in can foster even greater drive in collaborating on future decisions.
Being an effective, productive partner is hard work. It requires commitment to the shared vision, accommodation and humility. But for businesses to thrive, there is no other alternative.