Dairy farmers have a solid business lesson to learn from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal written by Jeb Bush, governor of Florida, in which he discussed his state’s efforts to reform education and how difficult the process really has been. He stated, “The reality of reform is vastly different from the theory, and change is a lot harder than it looks. But there are a few rules for real reform that makes it possible.” I realized many of the same rules apply to making certain we have our dairy operations “reformed,” especially after prosperous years like 2007 and 2008.

There is an epidemic going around America today. Thousands of people have a genuine challenge with simply making a decision. I’ve been thinking about this issue and have concluded that there are likely many reasons for this problem. At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, here are a few of the ones I came up with. Perhaps, you can think of some others and thereby help yourself to be more decisive going forward.

On our way to an important bank meeting, my client turned to me and said, “I wish I had more time to prepare of this – I’ve been so busy I didn’t do a thing for the meeting.” “Are you kidding?” I asked. Busy? Doing what? So we analyzed it: 84 hours per week at the dairy, 21 hours firefighting, and 18 hours in meetings!

In a typical week, the rest of his time was spent playing defense – filling out numerous forms, answering many “urgent” requests, and returning calls. He was spending about 6 of the 18 hours in meetings, listening to others talk about what they’re going to do or have recently done. He spent about 45 minutes actually doing work on new projects he’s currently involved in. And he spent exactly 15 minutes a week on inventing his next breakthrough.
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David Allen, in his book entitled Ready for Anything stated:

“You won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it. Our brain’s pattern-recognition mechanism is triggered by the images you identify with and the focus you hold. You see the outcome first, and then you are unconsciously made conscious of information. If you won’t see yourself having or doing something until you see how to do it, you’ll never recognize the methods, though they are all around you. Notice what you notice and how you make that happen.”

Since December 2008, I’ve heard a lot of people stating all the things they can’t do:

  • I can’t get my bank on board for the changes I want to make.
  • I can’t get production where I want it to be.
  • I can’t get feed costs down.

Please allow me to offer a few suggestions:
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As we have proceeded through the year 2009 in what has proven to be a genuine “management test” for most dairy operators, the question I am asked most often are, “How can we do a better job of running our business? What is the secret to stronger returns in a milk market like the current one?” As part of my response, I return to what I consider the basic framework for successfully running any business

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I was talking to an executive sitting next to me on a flight from Chicago two weeks ago. As we discussed our business prospects for next year, he sounded absolutely depressed. Given what’s going on in the US economy right now, I can understand why you might be a bit worried. The stock market is down, financing is difficult to locate at present and the big “R word,” recession, is in the air.

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