John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Think about that. How does this outlook fit with your feed and grain business? What changes might you need to make to keep your business competitive or on-track for the future? It is an understatement to say that in the past 20 years, we have experienced dramatic changes in production, technology, world trade, economics and government policies. The feed and grain industry has been impacted by all of these. Change, managing change and leading change are often popular topics in the business press and all levels of leadership training programs.
Whether you are new to the feed and grain business or a seasoned veteran, there is room for reflection on your leadership skills and the potential for you to bring about changes, whether large or small, in your business. Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, in his 1996 book, Leading Change, describes an eight-stage process for successfully creating change. Further, he outlines eight errors that leaders often make when attempting to change their organization. While his book was published 16 years ago, his thoughts hold strong relevance yet today. In this article, we share some of Kotter’s wisdom, and its significance to the grain elevators and feed mills you run.
Strategy for leading change
Samuel Bacharach, professor of Labor Management at Cornell University, reminds us that leaders are defined by their actions and their ability to execute. Leadership is about execution and follow-through. Kotter substantiates this in his series of phases in a successful change process. Kotter makes clear in his book that change can take a considerable amount of time, and skipping any of the steps in the change process can have negative impacts on the change and on sustaining the change. Here is a brief summary of the eight phases in the change process as described by Professor Kotter, with some brief applications to the grain and feed industry.
Establishing a sense of urgency
When a sense of urgency is felt, action often happens. On the other hand, not much generally happens when people don’t truly feel the need to do something. Economists might think of this urgency as being created by some motivating factors or incentives. Maybe your feed and grain business has started to lose customers and market share to a competitor. This loss will obviously impact business earnings. Once you, and enough others in leadership positions in your business, accept that this loss is not acceptable, then enough of a sense of urgency has been created to move forward in the change process.
Creating the guiding coalition
A change in your business is likely to begin with just you as manager or owner, or perhaps just you and one other leader who believes the change is necessary. However, it is critical that you build a group of at least three to five persons (key people who can help you implement your idea — your assistant manager and/or department heads) to lead the charge for the change. Your co-leaders must be able to convince or motivate others to support the new ideas and the change. Without key support of others, the change will not happen.
Develop a vision strategy
It is important you create a vision to direct the change and you develop a strategy that will lead to fulfilling the vision. Vision is important because it clarifies for others the direction of the change, it helps provide motivation for people to move in the right direction for the change, and vision helps align people — this alignment then serves to coordinate their actions.
Some folks in business management call this “the vision thing,” and we believe it is one of the major differences between management and leadership. Creating and defining a vision helps to motivate the leader and fuels their passion to guide and then manage the business to achieve what they feel it can become. Perhaps your vision is to become the dominant and most efficient grain handler in your region. Or maybe your vision is to feed more hogs in your market than any other feed business. Your vision leads to specific goals — which can then be quantified and managed.