Good Times Require Discipline, Too!

I recently finished reading a book on leadership entitled Team Secrets of the Navy Seals written by an anonymous author who actually continues to serve as one of our U.S. Navy Seals and hence wishes not to reveal his identity.  One of the most significant lessons expressed in the book revolves around our need for constant evaluation of “… whether you can afford to work with a ‘leadership challenge’ or whether it makes more sense to find a replacement” for that employee.  The author goes on to say that “If the weak Team member is truly a good person, try to find another job for them.  Do not keep them on for fear of hurting their feelings.  It will hurt both them and your Team.”

We are currently facing a similar situation in the dairy industry today.  As I write this column, we are finally enjoying some higher milk prices.  However, by the time you read this article, we could very well be seeing lower prices again.  While I hope that is not the case, it is always a possibility.  I recently had a client who felt the need to change his milking force’s days around.  During that process, one employee blatantly challenged my client that he wasn’t about to make the necessary changes, regardless of the outcome, and was prepared to leave if the changes went through.  As the saying goes, “Sometimes the only way to change a person is to change a person.”  That is exactly what occurred in this case, and as a result of this employee’s departure, I believe that both my client and his Team are better off.

I believe we are facing the same dilemma throughout many phases of our dairy industry today.  I realize that some decisions are really tough.  However, as my colleague and futurist Jim Taylor stated, “Wait for the future and you have no future!”  You’ve got to get going on this evaluation of all aspects of your business, and it’s not all about cost cutting either.  While we certainly do not want to overlook opportunities to cut costs in areas that will not have a negative impact upon our operations, there are other areas that deserve consideration:

1.)    Do you have the correct debt structure in place for your business?  Talk to your banker (or other lenders) to determine if your debt structure has been optimized.

2.)    Have you been using Milk Price Options?  They can provide a method for minimizing the damage during a downturn.  While you may find them somewhat confusing (as most of us do), they can be helpful.  Spend some time with other producers who have used them or with industry specialists who understand them.

3.)    Review the “efficiencies” of your current operation.  Are there items available that might boost production per cow with little additional cost?  Is there a way to milk more cows per hour or per man?  Today is always the best time to look at these items.

4.)    I hope I’m not too late on this one since I’m writing it about two months before you will read it, but be sure to catch up on your Accounts Payables.  You’re A/P’s, like almost everyone’s in a downturn, have probably grown somewhat.  Use this time of higher prices to regain as much ground as possible in getting your bills caught up.  It takes some real focus, but you’ll be glad you did!

5.)    Finally, (and you knew you couldn’t read an article of mine without this being mentioned) be sure to develop a plan for the future of your business.  Our industry, as is the case with most businesses, has become less forgiving of those who ignore the items listed above.  With that in mind, plan for the future that you want for your business.

As I have said many times before, you’ll be glad that you did!  Former Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi stated, “Winning is not a sometime thing – it’s an all-the-time thing.”  Make it part of your business planning today!