The fact that results leadership follows relatively closely and that thought leadership is last deserves a closer look. At some level, these CEOs are managing for today and are focused on senior leaders who can execute. Given the uncertainty and volatility in today’s environment, a focus on executing and operations sure seems appropriate. However, the fact that thought leadership and the capabilities it includes, such as innovation and thinking strategically, is ranked last suggests that these firms are vulnerable to the shifts of a rapidly evolving market. If the focus of the leadership team is on making sure the mill is operating at peak efficiency, timeliness of grain unloading is enhanced, delivery costs are as low as possible, etc., who is asking the bigger questions around structural changes in the marketplace and the resulting implications for the business?
Finding a balance here is not as easy as we have indicated. But, in the end, the senior leadership team is responsible for making sure the longer-term questions are getting asked, that the firm is taking steps to adapt to an evolving future, and that strategic options are being considered.
Please note we are not arguing that the here and now is unimportant — far from that! As indicated earlier, any successful feed and grain firm has to be successful in the short run to even get a shot at the longer run. We are saying that your organization’s leadership team needs to ultimately be good at both managing for today, and adapting for tomorrow. What can you do to cultivate such a perspective in your organization?
- Can we do it better? Creating a leadership team that regularly asks the question “can we do it better” can go a long way toward creating the climate of innovation and adaptation you are looking for. This does not mean every hare-brained idea blurted out in a brainstorming session will be explored. It does mean, however, your senior team is constantly on the lookout for new and better ideas.
- Take a look around. Make sure you push the team out of their offices and into your customers’ business, to industry seminars and conferences, to local Chamber of Commerce events, etc. Our agricultural business environment is moving fast, but so are most other sectors of the economy. Taking a look outside the organization into the world of your customer, into other parts of the industry, and into other industries may seed creative thinking on the question “can we do it better?”
- Make time for the future. Make sure you create opportunities to discuss the longer term at your firm’s regular meetings, at planning sessions, retreats, etc. Don’t worry about the short run; you will spend plenty of time in meetings on how to get through the next few weeks or months. Dedicating time to determining what changes need to be made today to be successful in five years is a different question all together. If you don’t make time to discuss it, we are pretty confident it won’t come up.
- Invest in professional development. Sending key managers to professional development programs intended to extend their time horizon, build planning skills, and hone strategic decision making can be a great investment. This is especially true when you ask them to report on their experiences at a senior staff meeting. Such a report can be a great way to kick off some of the discussions outlined above.
- Coach for the future. You in your role as president/CEO/general manager can support a longer run perspective by reinforcing these ideas whenever an opportunity arises. Some managers will have more skill here than others. And, frankly, those who will move to the top of your organization ultimately will need both sets of skills. So, how your folks respond to your coaching, and which managers can begin to balance the short and long run, will say much about who has the ability to take your place some day.
Getting through the next harvest, the next downturn or upturn in prices, the next competitor initiative can absorb every bit of managerial brain power an organization has. But, the most successful feed and grain organizations find a way to invest some of that managerial talent in longer-term questions. Take a few minutes and assess the kinds of conversations you have in your organization. Are they focused only on tomorrow, next week, next month, or do you find time to talk about next year or the next three years? Are your people not only working hard to execute your processes and procedures flawlessly, but do they also regularly bring you suggestions on how those processes can be improved? Dynamic and successful feed and grain organizations will certainly be successful at getting it done right day in and day out. But, they will also keep their managerial talent focused on adapting to whatever tomorrow brings. As John Wooden, UCLA’s legendary basketball coach, and a Purdue University alumnus, said, “things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”