The years 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2009 all had something in common for me. They were years when I had the challenging opportunity to assist dairymen by helping them turn their business situations around and getting them on a more successful path.
It most definitely was not easy. Each of them was faced with large financial challenges. Each needed some restructuring of their debt load. For each of them, the necessity for change was very evident. Our clients needed to face their problems head on. The following quote from Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM Corporation is appropriate here:
“I’ve had a lot of experience turning around troubled companies, and one of the first things I learned was that whatever hard or painful things you have to do, do them quickly and make sure everyone knows what you are doing and why. I believe in getting the problem behind me quickly and moving on.”
I have observed that in this type of situation people often do not want to face reality, as if it will change on its own or the problem will eventually go away.
How can you turn this into a positive outcome? Here is one method that I have used successfully with clients. In fact, it seems to work even better with tougher problems:
- Surround yourself with your entire team.
- Develop a chart on paper or on a marker board. At the top, list the problem to be overcome or the goal that you want to reach.
- Work as a group to complete a “brain drain” where every possible idea that the team comes up with gets written on the board. Do not evaluate them, judge them or criticize them at this point. Just write them down with no judgments or laughter (later, it could turn out to be the best response…)
- Each member of the team needs to participate. This is not a passive activity where some of us can just watch. We can only capture the best ideas if we get them all written down.
- Finally, after every idea that you can think of is written down, start to evaluate the pros and cons of each idea. This should not begin until you have a minimum of 20 ideas listed. We should not judge any of the ideas until we get 20 listed. When the evaluation of each idea begins, some will fall away quickly, but that is fine. Eventually, we only want to arrive at the best possible choice.
I was working with a client whose facility had become overcrowded. After listing 20 options, we concluded he could reduce his herd, lower his debt levels and improve efficiencies or he could change his facility, which would add to his debt levels. He could diversify his operations. Eventually, he decided to decrease his herd size and diversify into some tree crops.
This process of brainstorming can be used to work through a crisis. It can also be utilized on a regular basis for ongoing business decisions. Why not try it in your operation today? I think you’ll be glad you did!