How to get your farm management team to act with maximum unity and synergy?

Hi Folks!

I hope you all are well and healthy and getting the season off to a great start. You may have noticed that my blog posts are less frequent these days…. Well, it’s true. I’m in the process of launching the second iteration of my farm: Ottawa Farm Fresh inc. We are a peri-urban farm located 10 minutes from the center of Ottawa on federally owned land that we are leasing for 25 years. I look forward to keeping you posted on how I’m implementing the coaching and business systems concepts that I’ve been writing about on this blog on my own farm! What a privilege it is to be launching a second farm from scratch, but this time with a decade of farming experience plus 3 years of coaching/consulting perspective.

I wanted to share with you this email I wrote to one of my clients this week. To put it in context, she runs a pretty big farm with a business partner who is not her spouse. The farm is big enough that they now have a middle management team of 5 farmers. The big culture shift we are working on in our coaching is transferring the responsibility of daily operations completely to the middle management, thus freeing up the owners to focus fully on being farm entrepreneurs!

(I have changed names and details to conserve my client’s confidentiality. Just for fun, let’s call the owners of this farm Sally and Phil)

Enjoy!

Jonathan

———

Hi Sally, 

Here are some items to consider going into your first monthly leadership culture meeting. Let’s use the Tony Robbins OPA format just for fun.  (Outcome-Purpose-Action)

Outcome:

– To create a venue/mechanism for middle management to affect change on the company culture in an intentional manner (they are doing it anyways in the daily operations of the farm, this is simply a more intentional, explicit, collective venue to guide the process). 

– To refine how the group as a whole communicates and channels group wisdom. 

– To get buy-in on the SOPS from middle management. (Standard Operating Procedures)

– To tap into the on-the-ground expertise and observational power of middle management to iterate the SOPS and check-lists. The use of SOPs is an inherently iterative process. They serve to codify the current best practices so that you have a common starting point upon which to implement continual improvement in a structured manner.

Purpose:

– For middle management to feel the sense of ownership and leadership required for them to step up to the plate and fully manage the operational dimension of the business.

Action: 

Monthly leadership culture meeting. Make clear that this is not an operations meeting. This is a time to take a step back and look at the meta-perspective on how you are collectively behaving as a unit. Here are the items I would suggest  for the monthly leadership meeting agenda:

1) Round table check-in: each person has 2 minutes per person on a timer to express 1 thing they are grateful for, 1 frustration/challenge/fear, and 1 element that they are excited for. The purpose of this step is to create a safe space to share freely…There is no cross-talk in this portion of the meeting (ie. you and Phil do not react to what they are saying… the same goes for the managers of course)

2) Part 2 of the meeting is a brainstorming session. All ideas are welcome, no decisions are made in this meeting. The ideas that come out of this are used by you and Phil to inform the direction of the organization. If after discussing it, you two want to change a policy or SOP to incorporate something that came out of this leadership culture meeting, you can do so and announce it at a weekly ops (operations) meeting.

Start by creating the context for this brainstorm. This collective brainstorm is based on the following premise: That we are a team that is seeking to come together and act as one organism. There is greatness in unity. Together we create a synergy that allows us to kick some serious ass!! For this to happen, we as a group need to be conscious of how information is flowing (aka communication) and what is the best way for decisions to be made. 

a) What are we doing well?

b) What are the current roadblocks?

c) What would be most supportive in terms of taking our team cohesion, effectiveness, and synergy to the next level?

I would suggest having a big whiteboard with 3 columns and having someone other than you or Phil facilitating the conversation, making sure everyone is contributing, and taking notes on the board.

Limit this brainstorm session to 30 minutes. 

3) End with an expression of gratitude to the team and some type of group hug or team cheer or something to end on a high note. Your role as the leader is to be the steward and guide of the group’s energy (you are Gandalf, not Aragorn) (Phil is Aragorn). Are you willing to guarantee that people walk out of this meeting with a high-energy, “Fuck Yeah!!” attitude?

Schedule the next meeting on the calendar right away (25-35 days later). Take a photo of the whiteboard and file it in google drive.

Remember, this is not an ops meeting, you have those every Monday. This is a sacred space to call upon the spirit of the team (in a spiritual manner, not in the cheesy ‘team spirit’ way).

Let me know how the first one goes! We can work over it on the phone to iterate and refine how you run these monthly team sessions. 

-Jonathan

PS: Be sure to let the team know that the Monday ops meeting has changed. The new format is that each manager will have 5 minutes to present the plan for the week and their departmental MITs. (Most Important Tasks). These need to be posted on the whiteboard at least 30 minutes before the start of the ops meeting. The ops meeting serves to plan the week, but mostly is a training session for how you want managers to be making decisions about priorities and taking leadership.

Moving your farm store online: Weekly FB live.

As mentioned in last week’s blog post, the time has come to pivot our marketing strategies so as to increase our farm’s resilience and to respond to the need for local sources of produce during this crisis and beyond. 

Are you thinking of launching an online store to sell your produce? Are you wondering how to do this so it’s not a major pain in the ass!!?

We’ve got you covered.

Join Dan Brisebois and myself every Thursday at 8 pm Eastern (5 pm Pacific) for a weekly discussion of the ins and outs of setting up, launching, and promoting an online farm store. 

Each week for the next 6 weeks, we’ll be on FB live, geeking out together and bringing on guest speakers to take a good look at these questions from every angle. 

Here’s the link to join us. 

We’re also setting up a dynamic online community of farmers all in this together!

Wishing you and your tribe health and blessings, now and forever.

Santé!

Jonathan

Local farm marketing strategies in the time of COVID 19: Resilience and Agility.

Wow wow wow! 

Who would have thought things can get so crazy so fast! But they have, and it’s become clear that the status quo is not an option and that the “new normal” is going to take quite a bit longer to arrive. 

As supply chains are disrupted and consumers look for ways of going about life with a minimum of physical proximity, the importance of local agriculture has become extremely evident. There is a pressing need, how will you choose to answer that call? How will your business contribute and be of service to the local community? What does resilience look like and how do we move in that direction?

Let’s work through some of these issues together. This blog is not intended to be informative nor educational. This blog is a hands-on workshop, so grab a pen and paper and let’s get to work!

Are your sales channels compatible with the new “normal” of COVID 19?

The first step is to take a good look at your current marketing outlets to see how they are responding to the evolving situation. For some of these, the answer might be quite obvious (ie. your restaurant client is shut) while for others it might be uncertain or unknown how they will respond. One useful tool for this type of analysis is called the SWOT analysis.

Strengths: What are the known positive elements?

Weaknesses: What challenges are certain to accompany this market outlet?

Opportunities: What possibilities are seeking to emerge from this crisis?

Threats: What risks are potentially present, both known and unknown, current and future?

This analysis allows you to look at both your current marketing outlets as well as possible alternatives and future iterations. 

StrengthsWeaknessesOpportunitesThreats
Farmer’s
Market
CSA
baskets
Restaurants

Local
grocery stores
Wholesale
Distributors
Home delivery

Online
sales

How will you select and act upon emerging opportunities?

Before we go any further, I want to address the elephant in the room: the idea that talking about sales and “seizing opportunities” is inappropriate in a time of crisis. Let’s be clear about something: I’m not talking about taking advantage of people in crisis. I’m talking about being of service to our local communities and providing essential services: food and a connection to nature. It is our duty to step up to the plate. We often talk about Community Supported Agriculture…. Well, that’s a two-way street and now it’s time for Farm Supported Community (FSC). Taking action to be of service and build our businesses contributes to a thriving local economy, food security/resilience, and provides a livelihood for our teams and their families.

Great, let’s move on.

The second step is to choose which opportunities to move forward on. What have you observed so far about current and potential marketing outlets in the SWOT analysis? The next step is to compare the attractiveness of each option and gather the information needed to make the clearest decision possible given the circumstances.

One approach that I have found useful is to evaluate the two following criteria for each option on a scale of 1 to 10:

  1. Sales potential: On a scale of 1 to 10, what income does each option generate. Take both short term (6-12 months) and medium-term (2-3 yrs) time scales into consideration.
  2. The effort required: On a scale of 1-10, how much additional effort is required to act on this marketing opportunity. Be specific in this analysis. Don’t just consider “home delivery” as the option… really be precise, as in “home delivery to x, y, and z neighborhoods”. It’s easy to underestimate or overestimate things when we’re talking about abstract options. You need to be clear and specific at this stage of the analysis. 

Once you have this table completed, chart it out with effort required on the horizontal axis and the sales potential on the vertical axis. 

This creates 3 distinct areas: The low hanging fruit, the rotten apples, and serious options.

If you’re considering home delivery or online sales, here are a couple of useful resources:

  1. Here is a home delivery cost calculator spreadsheet that I built. Click on “File” > “Make a copy” to save a version you can edit. Then modify the information to suit your circumstances. Here’s a link to an MS Excel version. Contact me via email if you have any questions about what numbers to enter where and how to use this tool.
  2. While I haven’t personally used them, here are 3 online platforms that I’m hearing positive feedback on: Local line, Grazecart, Shopify.
  3. Here’s a blog post about route optimizer tools for determining the delivery route. Once again… I have no experience with these tools so I cannot endorse or criticize any of them.

How will these changes impact your cash flow and profitability?

Last but not least, we need to see if the chosen actions are going to be financially sustainable in the short and long term.

In the short term, cash is king! Will these options generate the cash needed to pay your bills, your team, and yourself to keep your business alive and thriving through the current crisis? 

In the long term, cash and profitability are both kings (cooperative co-kings) 🙂  Once we know an option will get us through the short term, we need to evaluate whether this option is the best for us to thrive and expand in the post-COVID world. 

Here’s a cash flow management tool developed by my colleague, Noah Munro, from Kitchen Table Consultants (a collective of farm viability consultants I am a part of.) 

I’ll let you check out that spreadsheet on your own, and I’ll discuss this as well as profitability in a future post, as this post is starting to get pretty long and I’m sure you have a million things to do today!! 🙂

May you and your loved ones be blessed with health, clarity, and serenity, Now and Forever!

Optimizing the flow of value through your farm business

There are very few actions on the farm that actually generate value.

What are people actually paying you to do?

How is value created on your farm? 

How does value flow through your farm business?

Given the nearly infinite number of farm tasks you could be working on, it is essential that you prioritize your time and energy so that you maximize value creation and flow through the farm business system. 

There are 2 frameworks I would like to draw upon today to examine this question: LEAN manufacturing (the Toyota Production System), and Holistic Management.

According to the LEAN approach, value is purely defined as what the client is willing to pay for. Through this lens, we see that there are certain critical moments when value is created in the farm system. If we take a seed and grow it into a carrot, we have added value. Someone would theoretically be willing to come and harvest the carrot and pay you more than you would get if you just sold the seed. If you actually harvest and wash that carrot, you once again add value. You can sell a harvested and washed carrot for more than you can sell a u-pick carrot in the field. Finally, if you actually go to market with that carrot, you will once again be able to charge more, which is the indicator that value has been added. 

Anything other than planting, harvesting, and marketing is waste. Some of this waste is a necessary waste (which we seek to minimize) and some of this waste is pure waste (which we seek to eliminate). But either way, it remains waste (Muda in Japanese). For example, while irrigation is essential to growing a successful crop, no one is actually paying you to irrigate. Irrigation is a form of waste… necessary waste, but waste never the less. 

This concept maps on well to the 3-link Value Chain from Holistic Management. In this framework the 3 links are:

  1. The conversion of CO2 into plant matter via photosynthesis;
  2. The conversion of plant matter into a marketable product via harvest, washing, etc;
  3. The conversion of the marketable product into money via sale.

At any given point in time, there is a single one of these links that is the weak link. Are you able to sell everything you currently produce via your marketing outlets… or could you sell more if you had more? If you increased production by 50%, what would be the limiting factor: harvest or marketing?

Of course, all these elements are interlinked, but it is important to make sure you are aware of and addressing the weak link in your system, your efforts on other elements are not as effective!

Which link is currently the weak link on your farm?

What actions are necessary to remove that bottleneck?

Once that is addressed, what weak link do you see coming down the pipe?

2 + 2 = 10: Building a farm culture for synergy and employee retention

What is it that distinguishes good teams from GREAT teams? Why is it that sometimes 2 plus 2 is 3 while other times 2 plus 2 equals 10? What are the key elements that bring out the best in us and allow us to synergize towards a common goal?

How do you go about creating a farm culture where employees thrive and flourish; a farm culture that attracts and retains awesome employees? 

In today’s blog, I’d like to present 3 key pillars of high-performance team cultures as defined by Daniel Coyle in “The Culture Code”

Coyle spent 4 years studying high-performance teams from a wide array of contexts: Pixar, SEAL team 6, a ring of thieves, an inner-city school, an improv comedy troupe to name a few. The three 3 key steps that all these teams use to build a high-capacity team environment are:

  1. Build Safety and Belonging
  2. Share Vulnerability
  3. Establish Purpose

One last thing before we get into these three points: what is team culture and why should we care about it? 

The Oxford dictionary defines culture as “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.” Coyle offers us this notion: “Culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

Cultivating a powerful farm team culture is actually one of the most powerful tools for small scale farms to attract and retain high-quality staff…. Let’s face it, people aren’t coming to your farm for the great pay or the stable, year-round employment… they’re coming because there’s something deeper that is motivating them… a desire for their lives to be a contribution to a higher purpose, a desire to escape from the rat race, and a desire to do good honest work in a fun environment. 

Safety and belonging

Above all, your employees are humans. What is it that humans need more than anything (assuming the basic physiological needs of food, water, shelter, and homeostasis are    Maybe leave out homeostasis? met)? Safety and Belonging!  This need stems from the very foundation of human evolution. At a very deep level, our primal brain needs to know that we are safe and that our tribe isn’t going to kick us out of the cave to be eaten by the saber tooth tigers! Interestingly enough, this finding is absolutely in line with Maslow’s pyramid of needs.

To create a strong team culture on your farm, your people need to know they are safe, that they aren’t going to be fired, yelled at, humiliated. They need to know that they are part of a team, a crew, a tribe of people who stick together through the epic journey of a farming season. Here are a couple of actionable suggestions both from the book and from my farm experience: 

  • Take the time to nurture personal relationships, both between you and your staff and amongst the staff.
    • Take the extra minute to build relationship one-on-one with each team member through regular, little interactions, and 1-on-1 meetings
    • Remember that connection is nurtured by in-person interactions. As humans, we respond to physical touch. A handshake, a hug, a high five, a touch of the elbow. Or course, remember to be respectful of each person’s comfort level; when in doubt, just ask. 
    • Create opportunities for interactions: working as a group, eating lunch together, having a beer together at the end of the week.
  • Pay attention to Threshold Moments.
    • Threshold moments are times of transition when people are most tenter what does tenter mean ? for belonging. 
    • This is when they are first joining your team. 
    • I know that this can be a challenge in the spring when there’s so much to be done that it’s tempting to blow off the onboarding and training process… but the investment of time and energy with pay off 100 times over! 
  • Never shame, blame, humiliate, or dismiss feedback.

The bottom line is that as members of a team, our number one job here is to take care of each other. 

Share vulnerability

Every individual has a gift to contribute to the team. The full synergy of the team can never be unleashed until an environment of trusting cooperation has been created. This is where pillar 2 comes in: Share vulnerability with your team. 

Trust is not a precondition to vulnerability… the act of being vulnerable actually creates the bond of trust amongst those who share the moment together. 

  • “Make sure the leader is vulnerable first and often”
    • This doesn’t mean to be self-deprecating and doubtful. This means that when you screw up, you admit it freely and without shame. When you don’t know the answer, you say so. By doing so, you set the standard that this is something we do at this farm…. People like us, do things like this… the creation of a sub-culture specific to your farm. 
  • Create time and space for candid communication and feedback. 
    • There’s a difference between being candid and being brutally honest. 
    • Welcome feedback and avoid the reflex to immediately respond, provide a solution, or justify. 
    • Have weekly team meetings. Instead of focusing on just what there is to do this week, take this time to reflect of your performance and dynamic as a team, using questions such as:
      • What were the intended results?
      • What were our actual results?
      • What caused our results?
      • What will we do the same next week?
      • What will we do differently?

Establish Purpose

Establishing purpose and vision is not an annual exercise for just the owners. It’s a critical element that must be part of the daily and weekly vocabulary of the farm team. Where are we at? Where are we going? Who are we?

  1. Create priorities:
    1. Be specific and precise
    2. Where are we at? Where are we going? Who are we?
  2. Name keystone behaviors that align with these priorities.
  3. Flood the environment with heuristics that link the two. Heuristics are short (often cheesy) phrases that are intended to embed the farm’s core values into the collective vocabulary.

Here’s a little brainstorm of to possible heuristics:

Elite farmers take care of their teammates

Good enough is perfect. 

We aren’t cavemen, we use wheals.

Work smarter, not harder.

Never go anywhere empty-handed.

Optimize every motion.

Never harvest slower than 150$/hrs gross sales.

We don’t have time NOT to communicate.

Quality, consistency, and cleanliness.

Clean, cold, and clearly labeled

A spot for every tool, and every tool in its spot.

The job’s not done ‘till everything is cleaned up and recorded. 

We’re data farmers.

People, planet, and profits.

Your turn!

What are you taking away from this blog post?

What are 1 or 2 actions that could contribute to building a synergistic business culture on your farm? 

How do these principles apply to creating a nurturing and loving culture in your family and home life?

Jonathan’s winter farm reading list

There’s nothing quite like settling down on a nice winter’s day with a great book!

Here are a couple of books I’d like to suggest if you’re looking for what to read this winter. 

The Culture Code

What is it that makes a great team? In this book, Coyle analyses some of the highest performing and most cohesive groups in the world and comes up with 3 key elements of what it takes to create such synergy… and it ain’t what you think!!! Check it out! (I’ll be posting a more in-depth blog on this topic once I’m done with the book). This topic is so pertinent especially in farming where employee retention is such an elusive goal.

Personal MBA

No time to go to business school? Not a problem. The Personal MBA breaks down key business concepts into bite-sized, easy to process sections. So many of us get into farming because we love farming… only to find out we’ve gotten ourselves into a business!! Here’s a great book to fill in some of the gaps!

How the farm pays

My all-time favorite farming book!!! This is a classic 1884 conversation between a highly successful vegetable grower and his dairy farming friend… captured and transcribed by a secretary and put into book format. This is an amazing source of pre-chemical ag. wisdom and practical knowledge. I particularly like the part where one of them says that the corn silage fad will never catch on and that forage beets will never be replaced… you gotta smile sometimes!!

Building a Storybrand

A fantastic marketing framework that allows us to tap into the power of story to convey our message in a clear and compelling way. After reading and doing the exercises in this book, you’ll have a complete brand framework that will support you to have a consistent manner to talk about your products in all your marketing and advertising outlets. The author also has a fantastic podcast and online course

Getting Things Done

If you’re one of those people whose brain likes spreadsheets…and if you’re looking for a way to free up your mind, be more creative, and be more productive, this book is for you!!!

The central lesson of this book is: Your mind is for having ideas, not storing them!

The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Humans love games. More than that, humans love winning! How do we create a team spirit where everyone is onboard and where everyone can know in an instant if our team is ‘winning’? Enter the 4DX framework! Check out this blog post of mine for a more complete discussion of this. 

The Books of Earthsea

And last but not least (lest you think all I do is geek out about business management)!!

Welcome to Earthsea! World of magic, of adventure, and of balance between light and dark. This exquisitely written series is a masterpiece of fantasy prose with a robust philosophical and moral message.  

Mastering your farm sales targets with ease and grace!!!

Ahhh.. the joys of marketing!! For many of us, we got into farming for the love of being outdoors, growing food, being our own boss, and contributing to building a better world. And yet… Money is a necessary form of energy available for us to use in the accomplishment of that which is most meaningful to us.

It’s easy to feel that we’re at the mercy of the markets. That marketing is some nebulous thing for soft handed office people. That making the money we’d love to make is a goal that is mostly dependent on luck, good weather, and keeping our nose to the grindstone. 

While there’s a certain truth to this, the fact of the matter is that there are some simple actions that can have a huge impact on reaching your financial goals. 

Profit = Sales – Expenses… remember?  Great! Let’s take a look at the “sales” portion of this equation today; we’ll dive into budgeting and expense in a future blog. 

Today I offer you two simple practices to focus your energy and bring a greater degree of intentionality to your farm business. 

  1. Setting clear, precise monthly sales targets.
  2. Reviewing those sales targets weekly with your team.

These two practices serve 3 main purposes.

Priming your brain 

The power of clear intentions is not to be underestimated.

Setting a clear sales target primes your conscious and subconscious minds to see and seize opportunities that will contribute to you attaining your sales targets. Your mind is like a supercomputer whose role is to collect evidence and find patterns…and yet we only use about 5% of our brain’s capacity on a regular basis. By giving your brain a clear search query to focus on, you unleash a powerful search engine (have you ever noticed that if you’re shopping for a certain car or truck… all of a sudden it’s like that model is everywhere but you just never noticed it.) 

The point is that hitting your sales target is accomplished through consistently taking actions that seize upon the available opportunities, moment by moment, day by day. With your brain primed to this, you will naturally be more inclined to see and act on such opportunities 

Aligning your team

The second piece of this is to tap into the collective creativity of your team (even if that’s just one other person!). To do so, I suggest you post the following chart in a prominent area of the farm…. Ideally next to your weekly planning board in your farm “control center”. The purpose of this chart is to clearly show progress towards your monthly sales target. Each week, the past week’s sales are added, thus creating a second line that represents the actual sales. 

Sample chart to review weekly progress to your farm’s monthly sales target.

Each week, take 5-10 minutes to review the chart with your team. They appreciate you giving them an insight into the big picture. They will feel more part of a team playing towards a goal. The desire to win is a powerful universal energy. As leaders, it is our role to tap into and channel this energy. You will be surprised at the ideas that you and your team will come up with, both by bringing in other opinions AND simply by getting it out of your head and being able to talk about this out loud. It’s amazing what we can see differently just by talking out loud about something.

Keeping you on track

Finally, this practice serves to keep you on track. The time to take action is in the present moment. By the time winter comes around and you finally get your bookkeeping all up to date… it’s TOO LATE to take action!! 

It is way easier to course-correct early on… Before things get out of hand. And, yes. It actually is amazing what an impact we can have on sales in those moments that they need a little (or big) boost.

Your turn

These simple practices have worked for me on my farm, for my clients on their farms (and other small businesses), and they can work for you!

  1. Set your annual sales targets per sales channel (based on last year’s sales, on projected growth rates, and on your profit goals for the year).
  2. Break them down on a monthly basis based on the normal monthly variation of sales.
  3. Inform your team of this new practice. 
  4. Start tracking sales RIGHT NOW!!! This is not only useful for market and wholesale, but also for tracking CSA sales in the coming months.

What would it be like to master the energy of money?

Ohh… and in case you hadn’t figured this out, I love this stuff!!! If you’re having any trouble implementing this, here’s a link to my calendar to book a free sample coaching session. Looking forward to meeting you!!

Mastering your weekly TimeFlow rhythm on the farm.

There are basically 3 types of roles on the farm: Producer, Manager, Captain/CEO/Leader.

Imagine that we’re a team cutting a trail through the jungle. The producers are those swinging the machetes, actually cutting the trail. Behind them are the managers; sharpening the machetes, setting up the work schedule, managing payroll, writing SOP’s etc. The captain’s role is leadership and vision. She’s the one who climbs the highest tree to see that the team is heading in the right direction, working towards a worthy goal. 

Day after day, week after week… there’s so much production work to do on the farm that it can be easy for time to fly by without taking the time to work on important but non-urgent administrative, management, and leadership actions. 

Enter the weekly rhythm!! This is an approach to scheduling your weekly workflow that has worked for many of my clients and allows for the inherent change and uncertainty that comes with running a farm. Whereas schedules are rigid and fixed, Rhythms are a flexible foundation upon which we can build. In the world of music, the rhythm is the foundation upon which the musicians can jam!

The purpose of establishing a weekly rhythm is to use your time in an intentional and focused manner so that you don’t put off important but non-urgent tasks until an emergency forces you to deal with it!

I suggest you split each day into 4 time-blocks, plus a 5th block that is the evening. Each block is approximately 2 hours. Next, dedicate specific time blocks to specific categories of actions. No need to be super specific right now about what each action is (which will change from week to week anyways), but at least block out time each week for the various roles (Production, Management, Leadership/Captain time) plus some dedicated time to your personal life. 

Then, each week, use this framework to dispatch the tasks for the week to the different categories. 

The bottom line is that if you want to take an action that is outside the usual range of urgent production activities… you need to set time aside for it. “I’ll do it when I have time” NEVER works!! If it’s not scheduled… it doesn’t exist!

So… what’s your flow? 

How would you love your week to be structured? 

What would become possible if you had time reserved each week for non-urgent actions?

Understanding farm leadership and problem-solving: The Cynefin Framework

“To she who holds a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” 

Have you noticed that your personal leadership style affects the way in which you frame problems and seek to solve them? 

Enter the Cynefin framework!! By creating a clear lens through which we can see challenges on the farm, the Cynefin framework is a powerful tool to make sure that we are using our energy optimally by applying the appropriate response to each problem. 

The framework is composed of a horizontal axis and a vertical axis. 

The horizontal axis describes the nature of the environment the problem is in: Predictable vs. Unpredictable. The predictable domain is to the right; this represents an environment where there is a high degree of cause and effect. To the left lies the unpredictable; the rules of cause and effect do not apply here. 

The vertical axis describes the nature of the response to the problem: Agile/flexible vs Fixed. Up top, we have the agile/flexible contexts; where the response to a problem is always different. Down below, we have the domain of fixed responses; where given problems always have the same solution.

Put this together and you get the following 4 quadrants. 

Here is the original Cynefin diagram where for whatever reason, they don’t explicitly name the horizontal and vertical axis. The dark area in the center represents the state of disorder. Disorder is the state of not knowing what kind of context you are in.

Let’s take a look at how each of these contexts shows up on your farm and what leadership style is most appropriate in each context. The discernment to accurately know what kind of context we are in is crucial and is the defining criteria to move from disorder to order (yes, even chaos is a form of an ordered system).

Obvious

This is the context when there is a cause and effect relationship in the environment (predictable environment) and where it is possible to know the best solution that will always apply to this problem (fixed response).

Examples of this in the farm setting would be:

  • How we seed a tray of seedlings;
  • How we wash and pack kale;
  • In what condition we leave the wash station when we’re done. (clean)

There’s basically one best way to do it… my way!! (just kidding). While we can recognize that we can always incrementally improve these processes, the fact is that we can determine the best practice for how we do this on our farm. It’s a total waste of time and energy to reinvent the wheel each time. This is the appropriate context to create and use SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure) and checklists. 

Complicated

This is the context where there is a high cause and effect relationship in the environment (predictable environment) and where we need to adapt our response based on the specificity of the problem (agile/flexible response).

Complicated problems show up a lot on the farm. In this context, there is a right answer but we first need to clarify the parameters of the problem. Examples of complicated contexts on the farm are:

  • Tillage and bed prep;
  • Irrigation; 
  • Weed control; 
  • Greenhouse management;
  • Watering seedlings in the GH.

The key point to retain here is that we know how to do these things well, but we need to be flexible in our response (be agile) based on environmental conditions. For example, we know how to control weeds, but our tactics will vary based on time of year, weed pressure, crop type, weed type, equipment, soil type, etc.

Complex

This is the context where there is a low or non-existent cause and effect relationship in the environment (unpredictable environment) and where we need to adapt our response based on the specificity of the problem (agile/flexible response).

Whereas in the Complicated context we know there is a right answer available once we clarify the parameters, this is not the case in a complex problem. The complex context is the domain of probing for emergent solutions, which usually brings up further questions given that the act of finding an emerging solution modifies the nature of the problem and requires us to attune ourselves to the new. 

Examples of complex problems on the farm are:

  • Marketing and Sales;
  • Employee management:
  • Research and development.

These are areas where we can’t be sure what impact our actions will have. The key here is to remember that the order of operations is: Probe-Sense-Respond. It is essential to keep an open mind and to remember that the goal in the complex domain is not to find the final solution; It is to be able to continue to pursue and respond to the ever-emerging and evolving solution. 

Chaotic

Last but not least is the chaotic context. This is actually the favorite paradigm for quite a few of us farmers. We just love the adrenaline rush of having to solve urgent problems on the fly!! But… let’s just say that is ain’t quite the most effective manner of constructing a profitable business that sustains us both economically and emotionally. 

The chaotic context is a context where there is a low or non-existent cause and effect relationship in the environment (unpredictable environment) but where the situation is so urgent (and consequent) that you have no time for an agile/flexible response… you just need to act NOW with a fixed response (usually an action that seems quite evident in the moment). 

If the barn is burning, there’s no time to sense or probe… you just have to act! Get people out! Try to contain the fire! Etc. When your caterpillar tunnel is about to blow away in the wind you just have to act NOW to try and avert disaster (weight it down, extra anchors, try and get it off in a controlled manner, etc).

Your turn:

The bottom line is to realize that at any one moment there are multiple contexts at play in different areas of the farm… and that you have a default problem-solving mode that may be tainting the way you can conceive of solutions. We need to be aware of our bias and be intentional in the way we seek to solve problems on the farm.

  • Which of these 4 contexts are you most comfortable in?
  • What is your default problem-solving mode (AKA leadership style)?
  • Which context is the most present on your farm?
  • Which challenges have you been trying to apply the wrong context to? (for example, treating a problem in the Obvious context as if it’s Complex rather than simply writing a Standard Operating Procedure (Farm SOP))

Let me know what you think of all this. I know that it’s a little heady, but once you wrap your head around it, it’s actually a powerful tool seeing current challenges from a different angle.

Here’s a short video with Cynefin’s inventor, Dave Snowden, that goes a little deeper into the subject.

If you want to chat about this and how it applies to your case, don’t hesitate to book a free discovery session with me. www.calendly.com/farmercoach/55min

Enjoy!!

2020 end of year review!

Amazing! Another year under the belt, one step closer to the grave! Way to go!

So, how’s the year going? What worked, what didn’t, what are you grateful for?

As we move into this new decade, let’s take the time to pause and reflect. Daily living can be so busy that we rarely take time to consider where we’re at on this journey of life. And yet… and yet, it is exactly this process of pausing and being aware that allows us to actually be present to our lives, to enjoy, to savor, to grieve, to learn … to fully experience what we are living. 

Step 1: Celebration

Whew!! What a year it’s been! I want to take a moment to acknowledge you (yes, you!!) for everything you’ve been up to this year. It’s so easy to get into a pattern of always seeking to improve while overlooking our successes

What are you willing to celebrate today?

What do you appreciate about yourself?

What is something that surprised you about yourself this year?

What are you grateful for this year? 

Step 2: Observation

This is the part where we get into the nitty-gritty details:

What worked this year? Where is there room for improvement?

What non-work activities did you do this year? 

Did you reach your financial goals this year? 

What crops works well, which didn’t, what needs to happen next year?

What was the best part of this year? What was the most challenging aspect of 2019?

What did you learn about yourself this year? 

Step 3: Vision 

This year we’re moving into a new decade! It’s time to look out at the horizon of time and envision where 

So often we overestimate what we can achieve in a year and underestimate what we can do in a decade. 

Imagine yourself in 10 years. Imagine that you could travel back in time to today. What would the 2030 version of you tell your current self? What will 2030 you wish you had started doing in 2020? What habits, routines, projects, and partnerships will you be so happy

What actions are you willing to take in 2020 to move towards this vision?

Step 4: Next step

Great work! Given what you’ve been reflecting on, what are the next small sweet steps to move towards this vision?

What are the 2-3 high leverage actions that will have the greatest impact in 2020? 

Here’s a short PDF guide I put together to help you identify these High Leverage Actions! 

As usual, I look forward to hearing what you’re seeing for yourself in all this!