Many farms—through intentional growth or by default—have shifted from a traditional, small family farm to a growing operation where the work is primarily done through others. The farm’s leaders still work hard to get things done, but more and more of their day involves leading and managing others.
This transition isn’t unique to farms. It happens in any business that’s growing, changing and scaling. As a business grows in size and complexity, the leader’s job changes too. The leader finds that different priorities and areas of focus are crucial—around what they’re doing and where they’re spending their time—in order to accomplish the farm business’ most important goals.
The leader's challenge
A larger or more complex farm isn’t just an operation that now happens to farm more acres, produce more livestock or run additional side businesses—it’s a whole different animal. Particular skills made the farm leader and operation successful in the past. However, very few of those same skills will ensure that the farm and leader continue to be successful as the farm grows in size or complexity.
Successful change starts with a shift in the leader’s thinking—about how to approach how they invest their time, communicate with others, hire and coach employees, negotiate with suppliers, and decide how the farm will measure success.
Farm leaders approaching this "leap" or shift often say they experience a certain feeling of powerlessness. It happens when they realize that they can’t do all the work on their own, like they used to. At that point, they have two options: move back to a level where they can do it all themselves, or really dig in and figure out what’s needed—the systems and people and processes—to make it all happen.
If there are plans for the farm to grow in size or complexity, the farm leader will want to first identify: What will these new ventures require from me—that I haven’t experienced or done before? How will I plan to gain those skills before the farm needs me to have them?
How do you know when this might be happening on your farm—and it’s time for you as a farm leader to take the ‘leap’? One might be a sense that things are out of your control. The complexity of the operation may have shifted—making it difficult for you to touch and understand it all in a direct way.
Another sign may be that it’s difficult to describe the system of how things get done on the farm. It might mean not being able to explain where profit, loss and efficiencies are occurring by enterprise or by individual piece of ground. Any of these realizations may mean your farm is starting to outgrow systems or ways of managing that had been useful in the past.
Choosing to always focus on improving the farm can help when it’s time to take the ‘leap’ as growth opportunities arise. Focusing on making the farm better starts by asking the right questions.
- As the farm’s leader, what do I focus on? Where am I currently spending my time? Where do I need to spend my time?
- What skills am I investing in building now that will serve me as I make the “leap”?
- What do I need to do to ensure that we, as an operation, achieve the results we want?
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