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During the last 23 years of my consulting work, there have been times when my life has seemed like a cross between two of my favorite movies, Catch Me If You Can and Up In The Air. Here’s a quote from the Actor Christopher Walken in Catch Me If You Can that I believe you will find appropriate for our discussion that follows:

  • Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.”

My question for you is this: As you face industry challenges or ones that are specific to your operation, which one are you?

I’ve been called crazy for doing some of the work that I’ve completed these past 23 years, but you know what? I love doing this work. Is it challenging and occasionally frustrating? Yes. Can it be difficult at times? Yes, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it and take all of the profit out of the process.

How do I do this? I recently reviewed my records and discovered that I’ve completed 73 financial turnarounds with Clients since 1999. That’s a lot of change! Some of these rescue missions have taken 1-2 years; others have taken 5 years or more. Some of them, following their financial recovery, decided it was time to exit their industry. The great thing on these was that they were positioned to sell out and walk away with sufficient proceeds to live the rest of their lives successfully. That news helps me to sleep at night.

So where are you in your current operation? Many industries, especially on dairies today, are facing some dire outlooks, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As the saying goes, “The best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago.” However, the next best time is today.

Here are some thoughts for you as you think about this question of what should happen next:

  1. Begin with what I call the Discovery Process. Where do you want to go and Why? If you can answer these two questions, step #2 is easier.
  2. Complete an analysis of where you are today, in terms of assets, debts and overall cash flows. This information provides the building blocks for your success plan.
  3. Outline and discuss the challenges that you will face in your next steps. My next blog will be focusing on just that topic.
  4. Evaluate what Cash Flows will be required to make it all happen successfully.
  5. Talk to your banker. Please don’t tell me this is too tough… I’ve faced off with large banks where the Client owed $6 million and had almost no collateral. What could we do? We simply built a repayment plan and worked through it successfully. The one thing I knew going in was that there was a solution. They just hadn’t identified it. If they had, my input wouldn’t have been needed. My saying that I was sure there was a solution may sound arrogant to you, but trust me. After you’ve completed 73 of these turnarounds, you start to understand that the answer, indeed, is out there. We just have to dig it up!
  6. Once you determine your plan of action, track your Cash Flows and always know where you are throughout the year. I treat CF Analysis the same as MacDonald’s founder Ray Kroc did the hamburger. Recall what he said? “I didn’t invent the hamburger. I just took it more seriously than anyone else.” It’s the same for me with Cash Flow Analysis!

Once again, are you drowning or climbing out of the bucket of cream? If I can assist you, please let me know. I’m happy to help.

Let’s take your business to the Next Level!

I recently completed an outstanding book entitled Upstream, which was written by Dan Heath. He is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE Center and has co-authored a number of excellent books with his brother Chip. You may even recognize some of them: Made to Stick, Switch, Decisive, and The Power of Moments. I’d highly recommend that you read this book in the near future.

See if you can relate to his opening story in Chapter 1.

“You and a friend are having a picnic by the side of a river. Suddenly you hear a shout from the direction of the water – a child is drowning. Without thinking, you both dive in, grab the child, and swim to shore. Before you can recover, you hear another child cry for help. You and your friend jump back in the river to rescue her as well. Then another struggling child drifts into sight… and another… and another. The two of you can barely keep up. Suddenly, you see your friend wading out of the water, seeming to leave you alone. ‘Where are you going?’ you demand. Your friend answers, ‘I’m going upstream to tackle the guy who’s throwing all these kids in the water.’”

A public health parable (adapted from the original, which is commonly attributed to Irving Zola)

This is a great example of “Upstream Thinking.” Have you ever noticed that we seem to spend a lot of time and money “fixing” problems, essentially those challenges that we are seeing “downstream” in our business? As you’ve heard me state many times, I firmly believe the following:

  1. If you measure some item in your business (e.g. Cash Flow), you can indeed understand it. It equips you to catch severe cost increases quickly before they get out of hand. Since these changes directly impact your break-even levels, they flow directly toward the “bottom line.” As I’ve said before, you can also use these cash flow measures to set your milk price floor within the Dairy Revenue Protection program.
  2. If you understand your cash flow, you can control it. You’ll know exactly what steps to take to positively impact it. Looking at your break-even levels, you can determine just exactly what changes you need to make in order to achieve improved profitability.
  3. Finally, if you can control it, you can improve your cash flow results. Isn’t that the objective of every business operation?

Well, whenever we identify a measurement that appears out of control, we should consider if we can go one step beyond this “downstream” measurement. Can we move more “upstream” and determine what is actually causing our problem? Here’s a simple example. Recently, one of my Clients was faced with higher than normal calf losses. These higher losses were the “downstream” measurement. At first, we thought that it may be due to changes at the calf ranch. However, as we moved “Upstream,” we determined that the machine used to pasteurize the colostrum being fed was only functioning at 60% efficiency. In other words, 2 out of every 5 days, it was not working correctly. This may shock you, but the employee that ran the faulty equipment noticed that it seemed to be failing. Unfortunately, he never bothered to tell anyone else. Hence, the challenges that arose “downstream.”

I’m sure you can think of other possible areas in your business that seem “off” in some respects, whether it’s a higher than normal “Cost/cwt” or another “Efficiency” measure. I would invite you to join me as I start to continually move my Clients “Upstream” in the next 12 months. Until then, what items in your operation are seemingly “out of kilter?”

Going back to the original question, “Would You Meet Me Upstream?” please give some consideration to this new type of thinking. It definitely will make a huge difference. If I can assist you with this process, please contact me at john@success-strategies.com or 209-988-8960. Best Wishes for a joyous Holiday Season and continued prosperity in the coming year!

Hopefully, I caught your attention with this question. Please allow me to explain. Read on & see 3.a. below. Cal Newport in his fantastic book Deep Work defines “Deep Work” as:

 “…the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy.”

As you attempt to wrap up 2020 which has, at times, been very challenging, this focus on “Deep Work” becomes very crucial. Here are a couple of questions for you to consider as you strive to finish strong this year:

  1. What items went right this year? We probably all tend to dwell on what items went “sideways,” but think about and write down what went well. Was your production per cow better this year? Could it be, going forward? What’s your profitability look like, especially in light of the CFAP money from USDA? Are your 2020 costs in line? How about Labor costs? Did your 2019 investments pay off? What else would boost efficiencies?
  2. What needs to change? Are there better cost controls you need to put in place? For more on that specific topic, please see my October 14th NLT blog entitled “Why Bother?” Do you need to maximize Labor Efficiency, i.e. become more productive, especially in light of rising labor costs? How about your debt per cow, especially as we consider the strong possibility that, at some point in the future, we will see lower milk prices…? Do we need to decrease your debt levels?
  3. Most important, ask yourself, What’s Next? Treat this like “Deep Work,” because that is precisely what it is. My recommendation includes the following:
    1. Go Away! No, I’m not telling you to get lost. Just simply get away from your everyday distractions and do some “Deep Work” on your business, using the information above as a guideline.
    1. Focus on what, specifically, you want to see next year! Yes, I know it’s only late October or early November as you are reading this, but soon the Holidays will be upon us, and will you find time then? Not likely…
    1. While you are in solitude & focused: What specifically do you want to accomplish next year? Who is involved? What steps do you need to take? By when? Do your proposed changes require some financial analysis? If so, please contact me if I can assist you.
  4. Take the time to focus on this “Deep Work” now. Your future success depends upon it!

If I can assist you with any steps of this process, please contact me at john@success-strategies.com or 209-988-8960.