How often do you find yourself doing things a particular way, just because you always have? We are all guilty of it. It isn’t necessarily the best way, or the most efficient way, it is just the way we do it. I have been doing the rounds again lately presenting to groups of farmers, and had the great pleasure of asking audiences whether or not they want to be better. Better next year than they were last year? And guess what… Everyone does! Everyone, everywhere.
Interesting isn’t it. If everyone wants to be better, then why isn’t the industry achieving rapid, almost rampant improvement? The reality is that we have very few unsolved livestock, or pasture issues. So what is holding us back? People! People problems far outweigh any technical deficiencies within farm businesses. Actually, any businesses!
Some of those are staff issues, some of them are personal issues, but the reality is they are issues. And when there are issues, performance suffers. I am often asked what it is that our best clients do differently. Most of the difference is the way they manage themselves, and all of the little things they get right because they are organised and proactive.
It is one thing to identify a problem, but it is another to fix it. So what can we do to improve performance, and fix some of the people problems (even if they are you!) within the business:
First things first – Why do you do what you do? Why are you farming? Is it because you love it, or because that is all you know, or just because. Why do you farm the way you do, and when you do, and where you do? Why do you what you do? These are often confronting questions, because on first thought we often don’t know the answer. Contemplating them can however, give you greater clarity of where you are heading and why. And that is a critical factor in achieving more (keep reading!).
So often I am asked which enterprise type is the most profitable. It is like everyone is still searching for that elusive silver bullet. My answer simply is “the one that you do best”. There is no point in commodity chasing if you end up doing something you aren’t interested in, don’t enjoy, and don’t strive to be the best. You just won’t make it work.
What about the rest of your team? And by team I don’t just mean staff, or even family. But everyone that plays a role in your business. Your agronomist, accountant, stock agent, bank manager, stud breeder, consultant. Who is on your team? Are they helping you be better? Are they the important player that they should be? And if they aren’t, is it the way they work, or the way you use them within your business? You have a team, whether you realise it or not, and sometimes there are people that sneak into that team. They fly under the radar for a while, sometimes decades, without you realising that they aren’t really working to make you better. If you have passengers, cull them.The same way you would with your sheep. Replace them with a better version.
And now for the other people in your business. Your staff, and family. Do they really know what you are trying to achieve? Do they share your passion for the end goal, and are they invested in helping make it happen? While money is a great initial incentive for people, it carries nowhere near the power that most employers think it does. More than money, employees want job satisfaction, and to be a part of something great. Are you offering that to them? Are they happy, enthusiastic, and chasing more and more achievement. Happy staff are productive staff, but too often in agriculture the finger is pointed at the employee as the problem. “They don’t want to work”, “they spend all of their time on their phone”, “they just don’t care that much”.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they are genuine issues, but sometimes the employee is simply bored shitless with a job that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere or achieving anything. That doesn’t mean they need a corporate ladder to climb. They often just need something to aim for and strive for. Results, responsibility, the chance to work without you looking over their shoulder. Are you doing everything you can to make sure that your staff and family see and hear your passion for making improvements in the business. Show them where the business is heading, and lead them!
Are you planning? One of the single biggest shocks to my system when I started consulting was the lack of planning and cashflow budgeting that I saw in farm businesses. The most common answer from people was “there is no point budgeting, its always wrong anyway”. That is EXACTLY the point! It tells you when things aren’t going as planned. If you aren’t budgeting, you aren’t running a business, you are playing with a hobby.
Planning goes further than that though. If you sat down and wrote yourself a wish list of all of the changes you would love to make to your property, if only you had the money, how long would it be? Don’t be ridiculous, but thinking responsible investment, based on all of the knowledge you already have stored away, what would you want to do to the place? With your wish list now in hand, are there things you can put in place to help you get there. Just wishing and hoping gets us nowhere. Planning and budgeting does.
A group I was running recently really opened my eyes to this point. Many of them need more pasture improvement, and more fencing to get to where they want to go. So, going around the room, we asked how they planned to do it. It is easy to come up with vague answers around how much is required, but actually stop, think, and plan for it. If your average pasture lifespan is 10 years, then you HAVE to have a minimum of 10% turned over each year on average. If it is 20 years, then it is 5% that must be turned over (good advertisement for Phalaris there!). If you have 30% of pastures that already need serious work, and you know that 10% will need to be re-sown each year anyway, it starts to add up.If you don’t plan for that sort of investment, it won’t happen.
The same goes for fencing. If you need more subdivision, then you need to be doing more than just keeping up with replacing existing fences. Sounds obvious, but actually getting posts in the ground is what you want to achieve.You need a fencing plan!
We often talk about the law of the limiting factor, and in sheep and cattle those limiting factors are often energy, or genetics, or protein, or sometimes a trace element. They are the easy fixes. Most often though, the limiting factor is…. You! Hard to take… but true.
This is as true for me, as it is any of you, so I am not sitting here simply pointing the finger at everyone else, it is an unfortunate part of human nature. And one we ALL need to continually work on.
So next time you are looking for ways to improve your business, don’t limit it to technical information. Chances are you already have truckloads of that, but it never makes it into the paddock because people are the real problem.
Do you want to be better? I sure as hell do!
Whatever you do well today, you can do better tomorrow.