Turning Knowledge into Action

First step in implementing management change is getting it in writing

Do you always act on what you know? Most of us return from seminars full of ideas, only to watch the enthusiasm fade in the rush of daily tasks. You’re energized, and you go home and your life is taken prison by the to-do list. We make decisions at meetings but adjourn with no plan of action, accountability or timetable.

Yet, without constant learning and improvement, the business suffers. So how do we make sure we are turning knowledge into action?

First, clearly define your mission, vision, and values, then lead by example. Pick new hires based on proven capacity to act. Look for ways to overcome obstacles to achieve results rather than using challenges as an excuse not to act; and put follow-up processes in place to insure decisions are implemented.

"You are the CEO of your farm, so you are responsible for the culture and vision for your farm – then making it happen," says Dean Hefta, director of development at Water Street Solutions, a Peoria, Ill.-based marketing and consulting firm,

Step one is to write down and identify the action you will take away from what you just learned, he adds. "You’re better off with one, two or three things you are serious about changing, than leaving with 18 cool ideas that never happen," Hefta says. "The one thing you implement can make a difference; the 18 cool ideas that go to waste, well, that’s time you could have spent doing pretty much anything else."

Turn your core values into action. What are your core values? Can you incorporate them into your action plan? At Southwest Airlines, one of the written values is, “fun.” That’s a line from the top management on down and it resonates with everyone who works at or flies on Southwest.

"Carve out the time you need, bring in people who are important to your operation, and say, this is how we’re going to live and run our business," adds Hefta.

Implementing change is never easy, especially if one of your core values is tradition. But, holding on to sacred cows and encouraging procedures that have outlived their usefulness is no way to run a business. Honestly answer the following questions:

-Do you avoid strategic shifts in production processes because that’s not the way your grandpa did it?

-Do you rely on precedent instead of innovative thinking and analysis?

-Do you expect kids to work for minimum wage because “that’s how we were treated in the last generation?”

-Do you believe everybody should be equal and never be allowed different opportunities based on skills, abilities or capacity to invest in the business?

If you said yes to any of those questions, one way to begin changing this mindset is to allow members of your team to create innovative management structures, ventures or processes without being constrained by the “way we’ve always done it” approach. "Create a business culture where people are encouraged to question the old ways of doing things, as long as they are building on proven processes and not reinventing the wheel," says Dick Wittman, Farm Futures contributing editor, rancher and management consultant out of Cul de sac, Idaho. "Be flexible on how successors are allowed to assume management or ownership roles in the business."

Encourage open communication and suggestions for improvement. Decentralize decision-making and respect people’s authority to operate within flexible parameters, suggests Wittman. Punish inaction, not honest mistakes. Reward efficiencies by encouraging growth in the business and sharing the rewards with those whose efficiencies made this possible.

One of the big challenges in implementing change is not knowing enough. If we’re trying something new, we’re probably making mistakes; If we aren’t making mistakes we’re not trying anything new. Yet, it's human nature to want to avoid mistakes.

"As the CEO of your farm you need to make it clear that mistakes are allowed, but that continuing to make the same mistake over and over is unacceptable," says Hefta. "Mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them."

This moves you away from 'that’s how we’ve always done it,' to, 'I’ve never done it this way before, but I’m learning something new.'

For more on this topic look for our cover story in the upcoming May/June issue of Farm Futures.

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