Lately, you’ve been feeling a lot of internal pressure to do something, anything to keep up. After all, your neighbor to the north just put up a 250-head heifer barn. Your neighbor to the east expanded his herd by 300 cows. And you’ve just heard that another neighbor is planning to produce farmstead cheese.

But do you really need to keep up? Perhaps a better question is “do you need to keep up in the same manner?”

“So many people try to keep up with the Joneses instead of focusing on what is right for them and their business,” says Hank Wagner, dairy producer from Oconto Falls, Wis. That doesn’t mean you should ignore competitive forces or industry trends.

Instead, determine what’s right for you and your business so you can achieve your own unique business goals and objectives to address those factors — irrespective of what the neighbors are doing. Here are some suggestions:

1. Take time to ponder goals.

Remove yourself from daily distractions and interruptions. To begin, take at least an hour away from the dairy — and your cell phone — to think about what you want to accomplish with your business. Exercise patience. It may take several “alone time” sessions to develop your goals, especially if this process is new to you.

Start with an exact timeframe in mind; for example, the next year. As you develop this skill, you can add additional time frames and make your internal discussion more complex. But it’s best to start simply.

Your aim is to establish who you are as a business owner and what is important to you and your family.

Use a notebook or bring along your laptop computer to write down your goals as they come to mind. This will help you determine which goals are most important. It also will help you express your thoughts when you bring up these topics for discussion with key family members and farm personnel in step two.

Ask yourself the following:

  • What is your business about?
  • What goals do I want to accomplish?
  • What is each goal for — a process, an individual or for the entire business?

Goals must be reasonable and measurable, and they take time to accomplish, points out Bob Milligan, senior consultant with Dairy Strategies, LLC, a dairy-business-management consulting firm. Motivation and purpose are the real objectives of goals. Be sure that the ones you set are realistic, but not too small.

It can be somewhat painful at first, especially if you’re not naturally a goal-oriented person, notes Wagner. “So, take it slowly.” This step doesn’t have to occur every day, but you should develop a regular routine for it so that goal-setting becomes a habit.

2. Make sure that your business goals and personal goals mesh.

Once you’ve defined the goals for your business, it’s time to discuss them with your spouse and key family members, as well as key personnel. For some businesses, this step may be combined with the first step, especially if your spouse and family members are involved in your dairy business.

“Business goals are extremely important to me,” says Wagner. “But what good is a successful business if it doesn’t meet my personal goals and our family goals? The business works for us; we don’t work for the business.”

Again, take time away from the dairy to discuss these goals. Do not allow distractions and interruptions to derail this conversation.

Following these discussions, you may need to tweak some of your business goals. Or, you may need to rethink them again, with a follow-up family visit.   Either way, write down the revised goals in your notebook or computer file so that everybody is clear on them. 

At least once a year, re-evaluate your goals to make sure the business goals mesh with the family goals, recommends Wagner. “And I can’t emphasize enough the need to do this away from the dairy and all the daily distractions there.”

3. Prioritize your goals.

You must prioritize your goals. Too many people set goals without regard to how these goals affect their business or set any order of importance to them.

Focus first on those goals that are “wildly important,” suggests Haydn Shaw, senior consultant with FranklinCovey, an internationally recognized business-consulting firm. “A wildly important goal is one that makes all the difference (and) failure to achieve this goal renders any other achievements inconsequential,” he explains.

Developing these goals at the highest levels takes a lot of time, Shaw adds. “We can achieve ‘good, better and best’, and most people only get to ‘good,’ although some get to ‘better’ and a few achieve ‘best’. The reason most people settle for ‘good’ is because they don’t take the time to develop goals that are ‘best,’” he says.

To achieve “best” goals, you’ll need to be very discerning. And patient.

According to FranklinCovey’s “4 Disciplines of Execution” seminar, wildly important goals are:

  • Economic: What is going to bring the greatest revenue, be best for long-term success?
  • Strategic: Does this goal fit with our strategic plan, prepare us for our competition or stretch us too thin?
  • Stakeholder-oriented: How does this goal affect everyone with a stake in this organization — owners, employees, and the community?

Use all of these criteria to establish if a goal fits the “wildly important” category. Not every goal you set will be “wildly important,” nor should they be.

While this process will help you narrow your list, you will still probably have anywhere from seven to 10 or more of these goals to address. Don’t attempt to deal with all of them at once. Pick three to get started. “Dealing with any more than three wildly important goals at a time causes most people to lose focus,” cautions Shaw.

Finally, you’re ready to begin to implement and accomplish these goals. Go to page 34 to learn how.

Additional reading

  • “The Effective Executive Revised” by Peter F. Drucker
  • “Focus: Achieving your Highest Priorities” by Stephen R. Covey
  • “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey

These books are available at or your local bookseller. You also can find them in your local library. 

Just do it

Goal-setting is not an easy thing to do for most people. It takes time, effort and facing sometimes painful topics and situations. However, if you pay the price and plan (another word for goal-setting) early on, it’s a lot less stressful in the long run, says Oconto Falls, Wis., dairy producer Hank Wagner. “Then, all you have to do is follow your plan and reward yourself for the things that fall into place because of that plan,” he says. Most of the heavy lifting that accompanies these processes has already been accomplished. “We really do control our own destiny and how our businesses contribute to our daily lives,” he adds.