What does success look like to you?
For many, success is measured in terms of net profit, wealth or an accumulation of assets. For others, it is the ability to put children through school, travel or to own a cabin. However measured, success is often tied to money and people.
In my Nuffield travels and research I found that globally, successful agricultural enterprises developed a gap when it came to middle management.
At some point, the business grows and one cannot be the manager, the employee and the employer all at the same time. Delegating, mentoring and training from the conceptual stages of a business are critical as you need to bring forward those skills cultivated in others. You must invest in and nurture people on your team.
For women, preparing teams for the role of middle management is particularly critical as females may be raising families in parallel with running a growing business. Saving on the training at the front end will cost more later in the journey if team members have to be taught at a busy time of growth. They then need a long runway to familiarize themselves enough in the business toward a middle management role. Training staff early allows for a shared family and business focus.
As a mentor, most of my work is not at the beginning of the business. Rather, young men and women call when they are established and going through the shock of success and struggling with juggling a multitude of roles.
“I never dreamed that having a successful ranch would take me from the saddle to the desk and hold me there. This is not what I envisioned.”
In this example, the independent nature of ranching often excludes the training in tandem of individuals who can get to know the business.
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What seemed an expense in the early years, now becomes a critical need. Team players are harder to find when the business is in full play and the expectations are higher.
When bringing in new staff, we are reminded that young folks are willing to be part of a long day, but not the whole of it. This may require two people with a flexible schedule to fill one job description.
For this rancher, the desk has become a prison — but then again, with so much financial activity, there has to be someone in that space. Another way to prepare for this would be to engage administration staff early in the business so there is a skill set and trusting relationship developed that grows with the expansion and success of the business. With any agricultural enterprise such as those with livestock that need daily care or greenhouses where monitoring and harvest is continuous, it is critical to have administrative help.
New businesses also have shared in surveys and calls that access to capital is generally easy. Young companies may be star struck by the availability of cash for operating or for investment in depreciating assets such as equipment. Increased debt is not success. Adding to the debt and the workload without an operating plan and teams of capable folks who qualify for middle management always brings additional stress to the business and farming family.
Within several months of implementing a dedicated plan, I start to see success in most businesses and I am hopefully out of a job in mentoring within five years. By that time, most owners have found their personal truth, their groove, their tribe and fine-tuned the recipe needed to engage teams early in the process. These employees grow with and often even invest in the business.
It is never failure that I see in the carefully crafted business of entrepreneurs — it is mind-blowing success.
But here are some of the questions that develop: Who is in place to manage all these new responsibilities? What does the business look like when the creator spends 30 per cent of their life on the road? Who is taking care of business and family? Am I still a good mom if I am working full time on the farm? How do we manage when the orders are larger than the work space or delivery capacity? How do we manage taxes and succession? Who is navigating through this with me? When the bank calls to offer more, what does that mean for our future? How do I tell my parents that my vision of success on the family farm is different from theirs? What happens when our reach extends beyond our knowledge base or comfort zone? How do I determine who is capable of managing? Am I considered a loser if I decide not to grow anymore or to go in another direction?
There is no such thing as being a loser or failure.
There are only lessons and success is achieved with a multitude of lessons learned. It requires preparation, particularly in middle management, so that the dream becomes the reality.