Take a farm lesson from the Patriots

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Management consultant Michael Hammer, who authored The Agenda: What Every Business Must Do to Dominate the Decade, serves up this food for thought:

Regardless of whether companies choose to compete by price, service or social consciousness, they must excel in their niches. Oversupply spells death to mediocrity.

Perhaps in that last sentence, Hammer has hit the nail on the head in identifying agriculture’s problems: Oversupply spells death to mediocrity.

There are those who argue agriculture isn’t faced with oversupply, but on the world marketplace, I would argue otherwise. If demand outstripped supply, would we be looking at $1.80 corn and $4.40 soybeans?

Agriculture is not alone. There’s chronic overcapacity in cars, steel, computers and just about every industry.

And in just about every industry, there are scores of mediocre players, agriculture included. It’s like the old bell curve of students’ scores. There are a few A students, a few D and F students, and a whole bunch of C students. That’s fine in school, because we can hope that those C students do not choose that subject to be their career path. Mediocrity is not so fine in the business world, in the farming world.

In the aftermath of this year’s Super Bowl, Hammer penned an article on how we can all learn from the New England Patriots, who upset the favored St. Louis Rams. “Execution is absolutely necessary, but it is not sufficient, particularly when your opponents have more talent than you do,” Hammer says. “Instead, you have to play a different game from what they are. The Patriots do not use the same football plays as everyone else.” Opponents are caught off-guard.

The counterpart in business to football plays, he adds, is how a company – a farm – performs its work. Find new ways of adapting new technologies, of managing customer relationships, of planning production. Doing so is not easy; it takes hard work and planning and effort.

Then, match your people to your processes. Which was the better quarterback, Hammer asks, the veteran starter Drew Bledsoe or his backup Tom Brady (who stepped in when Bledsoe was injured)? For this team, this year, with this style of play, it was Brady. The world’s best employee isn’t any good if he’s not suited to what you’re asking him to do. Your herdsman would rather be out on the tractor? Chances are your herd – and your bottom line – is suffering.

Finally, Hammer said New England had the passion as a team to work together for the good of the team.

“When the Patriots took the field at the Super Bowl, they insisted on being introduced as a team rather than as individuals,” he wrote. “The Patriots actually believe in the values of teamwork, selflessness, and every individual contributing however possible… The Patriots’ coaches only hire players who fit this culture and they let go veterans who do not.”

Do you, your family members and your employees feel strongly about what you’re doing on your farm? Do they have that passion? Do you? You create that team passion, Hammer says, “by embodying these values yourself, and by endless, repetitive, relentless communication with everyone.”

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