Managing for change

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It is easy to use these “unchangeables” as an excuse to not plan or change, but that isn’t leading.

In working with dairy farms and other producers, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension specialists often hear, “well, I can’t do forward planning because of A, B or C situation”, or “I don’t know X, Y or Z.” It’s easy to focus on what we can’t control, for instance; heat effects on crop growth, heat cycles in dairy cows, or pollination. Another big unknown is price, “surely I can’t forward plan if I don’t know what I am going to get paid.”

Certainly some of these would qualify as unknowns. Others may be able to be addressed through good records to come up with baseline numbers, but if farm managers are going to make progress then they need to see beyond these unpredictable variables and lead.

Without considering the “unchangeables”, what would you like to see as far as improvements on your farm? Do you want a SCC under 100,000 for your dairy herd? Do you want reduced antibiotic use? Do you want production over X/cow? Do you want X profit/cow? The first step is setting your goals for the farm. Goals should be achievable, but also make you stretch a bit. Even if there are obstacles in the way, setting goals will impact decisions in the months and years ahead that will ultimately lead to accomplishments. Get employees involved early in the process of setting goals and developing solutions if you have any hope of achieving them. 

Work with employees to develop the “next steps” in reaching the farm’s goals. Employees need to see both the goals and solutions as “ours” not just “yours” if expecting to be successful in achieving the goals. This was just one of the concepts from a recent webinar conducted by Dr. Bernie Erven on Getting to “We”.

Once you and your employees are working together as a team to accomplish your shared goals, Dr. Erven suggested that employers need to delegate authority to their employees to make decisions and take actions. Employers then need to communicate with employees both individually and as a group to ensure continual training and performance feedback occur. Finally, employers need to find ways to reward employees for their contribution to the “teams’” performance that led to the accomplishment of “our” goals.

MSU Extension encourages you to lead in the areas that you can change on your farm. Your employees look to you to set the tone for continuous improvement on your farm. If you can’t think of areas to change, step out and ask your employees for ideas, ask them to help you develop solutions and get ready to lead your dairy farm to be a great dairy farm into 2014.



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