Dana Allen knows it’s important to spend time in the office, but like a lot of managers she is still making the transition from manager to chief executive officer. Spending time in an office — rather than a barn — is not always intuitive.

When I visited her in mid-May, this was top-of-mind. Two days earlier, she and some other southeast Minnesota dairy owners and managers got together for a webinar series entitled, “I have to stop managing by the seat of my pants — the necessity of a chief executive.” She got some much-needed validation from her peers that time spent planning and setting forth a direction for the farm is just as important as time spent with cows. 

Furthermore, it’s important to explain this to employees, so they will understand what she is doing in the office and why it is important to the farm’s future. 

Spending time in the office helps the manager deal with important issues before those issues become urgent, says

Bob Milligan, senior consultant at Dairy Strategies and professor emeritus at CornellUniversity. (Milligan led the webinar series at Allen’s farm.) There are a number of important issues to address on a farm, and the owner or manager needs a mechanism — whether it’s going in an office and closing the door or else going to a local coffee shop — to address those issues in a proactive manner.

“By the time those (issues) are urgent, it’s too late,” Milligan says.

That is the same approach espoused in the popular business-management book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey.

“You need a tool that encourages you, motivates you, actually helps you spend the time you need in Quadrant II (of the time-management matrix involving important but non-urgent tasks), so that you’re dealing with prevention rather than prioritizing crises,” Covey writes.

Time in the office helps you do that. So does going to industry meetings, getting involved in community activities and discovering new ideas off the farm.

Things are changing so fast in this industry (and society in general) that you have to stay ahead of the curve rather than just react to what comes your way. As Mary Kraft, dairy producer in Colorado, points out in this month’s Tools for Profit column, there will always be people who show up at meetings, adopt the latest technology and so on. They can ace you out if you don’t step back for a moment, grasp the big picture and then take your own initiatives. (Please see “Get off the farm” on page 6 of this month’s issue.)

I always tell people that dairy producers are among the hardest-working people in this country. I am always amazed by what can be done when that energy is channeled in an efficient manner. I know a number of people in this industry who went from virtually nothing to owning multi-million-dollar operations.

Spending time in the office has helped fuel that success.