How to Be Productive in the Dead of Summer
Two strategies to fight off the drop in productivity
Everyone refers to the dead of winter as a slow time of the year. However, in agribusiness, winter is often the busiest. Crop production is done and planning for the next crop year is in full swing. Producers get their yield reports finalized and want to plan out the next year. Poultry isn’t nearly as seasonal as it used to be, but following Thanksgiving, many turkey producers finally have time to meet and plan for the next year. Winter is also show season for agribusiness. From January through March, it’s one trade show or vendor meeting after another.
So, if winter is busy, when does it slow down. For many of us, it should be called the dead of summer, which is right now. I know there is still plenty to be done: crop scouting, animal and crop disease issues, etc. However, farmers are busy and barely have time for more than a quick check-in discussion as they work. For you, this is execution time. They need your company to execute on all the promises made when they bought from you. However, this is also vacation time in agribusiness. Many of the key people in our offices, elevators, feed mills, trucking and manufacturing plants will take a much-needed vacation. Even you (a salesperson) might be heading for the beach somewhere far from the Midwest so you can disconnect, rest and recharge your batteries.
Another contributor to the dead of summer is the end of your company’s fiscal year. June 1 is often the beginning of the new fiscal year for many in agribusiness. his can be a busy time internally for us: new budgets, new programs, employee changes as people retire or get promoted, and the dreaded annual review process. Then we follow a busy June with a lightning fast July.
I read recently, the productivity drop that goes on in business during the summer months can be as high as 30%. While it’s hard to measure, let’s look at a few things that will happen in an agribusiness over the next couple weeks.
By the time we come off the fourth of July holiday, it’s one person on vacation after another. Don’t get me wrong, I think vacation is great and everyone needs their time away to disconnect and recharge. However, it all seems to hit at once. The struggle in agribusiness is that we are typically not overstaffed. For many important tasks, there is only one person who does that job. Think about grain settlements in an elevator or reversing an invoice with multiple transactions. Think about the pellet mill operator, who is part machine operator and part artist in making a good pellet. How many people know how to correct an inventory error in the system across months or even worse across fiscal years? “Mary” is the only one that knows how to do that! And no one is going to touch the program that “Mary” runs. So, while “Mary” is gone for several weeks this month, your inventory and ordering are off.
While it’s difficult to eliminate the productivity loss when key people go on vacation, take a few steps ahead of time to reduce the productivity drop. As a salesperson, sales manager or leader in your business, take the initiative to plan for it.
How to reduce the productivity loss as much as possible:
- Cross Train: I mean really cross train. I know you made it mandatory that everyone does some form of cross training. However, most of the time it involves one person going over to the other person’s work area and watching how the task is done. That’s not cross training. That’s observing. Establish a set of critical actions that your business must be able to accomplish. Examples are buying inventory, order entry, customer invoicing and company financial transactions. In operations, look at the really critical roles that require judgement calls. These seem to be the trouble areas when key people go on vacation. Require the individual getting cross trained, to actually sit in the seat and operate the piece of equipment or computer program and do the job. Ensure there is a smooth transition between these two individuals before the vacation starts.
- Bring in people from other areas/departments: If another location in your area or neighboring area has a full staff, consider asking one of them to come over and help while your key employee is on vacation. This seems to be a struggle in agribusiness. I used to think it was because operations managers were too proud or shy to ask for help. However, I’m more convinced now, they are just busy and don’t think of it. If running a piece of equipment is so difficult that only one or two people in a location know how to do it, reach out to your neighboring plant that has several operators and ask them to help fill in. I’ve seen one elevator working like crazy trying to load a rail car while four employees at a nearby elevator were mostly standing around.
- Salespeople on vacation: When you office from home, people seem to think you have a lot of free time and don’t need time away from work. They see your car in the driveway and think, “Wow, must be nice to be in sales.” The reality is that when you office from home, you have to be disciplined about your hours or you will never stop working. The early hours before everyone in the house wakes up, the late hours after everyone goes to bed or maybe a few minutes on the weekend to “check emails”. They can wear you down and you need to take some well-deserved time away.
But how, if you play a key role in your customer’s business?
- Plan for it: let your key customers know ahead of time.
- Let them know you will be unavailable. This is important as there are always those customers that don’t care or don’t remember you are on vacation and will contact you anyway.
- Lastly and most importantly -- be unavailable! If you even think about answering the phone, replying to an email or texting -- don’t!
As you walk through your office in the next couple weeks or maybe sit on a beach somewhere far away, feel good in the fact that people are disconnecting and recharging. Hopefully, with a little planning and cross-training, you and your fellow vacationers didn’t leave behind a mess that will take weeks to dig out of when you return.
Most importantly, your customers won’t see the that normal drop in your service level that happens about this time every year.