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Conquering Change Management for Long-Term Success

Al Bennett
Educational Opportunities: 
Grain, Dairy, Swine, Beef, Timber, Renewable Energy, Young, Beginning Farmers, Emerging AgriBusiness, Specialty Industries, Women in Ag, Investing in Rural Communities
Home > Education & Events > May 2016 > Conquering Change Management for Long-Term Success

It’s been well documented: death and taxes are a certainty for all of us. While perhaps true, another inevitable, unavoidable experience of life is change. During my career I have had the opportunity to experience change myself, observe others navigate change, and like others, have had good and bad experiences in the process.

Given the competitive nature of agriculture, the multiple risks, and the compressed profit margins we are currently experiencing, I believe there is value in sharing a time-tested process for “Adapting to Change.”

Many years ago I had the honor of learning the model for “Adapting to Change” from my mentor/teacher: Col. Milton Toratti, a highly-decorated Army Veteran from the Vietnam Era. As a humble man, Milt would likely be upset with me for sharing his name, let alone mentioning the multiple Bronze Stars, Silver Star, and Purple Heart he earned during his service to our country.

As the architect of this model, in my opinion, I submit he deserves credit. The colonel’s model begins with the basic premise that in the course of everyone’s life it is inevitable there will be disruption. This disruption evolves in two forms: External Disruptions, caused by events in the environment around us - such as natural disasters, weather, markets -- that are outside our emotional sphere. Internal Disruptions involve matters of the heart. These include violations of core values, are sometimes triggered by unmet needs and caused by players in our life who violate our trust, question our character, or lack respect for who we are. Observable symptoms of Internal Disruptions involve displacement activities such as: substance abuse, addictions, infidelity, and emotional and mental breakdown.

In either case, both external and internal disruptions lead to heightened sense of anxiety and uncertainty, and trigger the human emotion of fear. Many of us show up with a number of innate fears such as the fear of falling or the fear of loud noises. While not all inclusive, I would share the following additional fears: Conflict, Losing Control, Failure, Loss, Hurting Others, Change, Security, Future, Mortality, Not Meeting Expectations, Not Having the Answer, Not Fitting in or Being Accepted, Being Labeled Incompetent or Unprofessional, Being Judged by Others, Not Being Loved, etc.

A predictable human reaction while experiencing fear, is to initiate the “Blame Game.” This is simply ego exercising the option of avoiding personal responsibility for current conditions and explaining circumstances as a result of outside influence. Symptoms of those engaged in the ‘Blame Game’ include:
  • Loss of Energy,
  • High Levels of Stress,
  • Denial, and
  • Depression.
The black hole of fear and blame can consume some people but when they become open to working beyond this phase, there are three potential avenues for exit. The initial choice: “Can’t we simply go back to the way things used to be?” While perhaps an attractive option, it is seldom realistic as TIME has passed, conditions have changed and a new approach becomes mandatory.

A second choice is Termination. With this option, people elect to exit their current condition. This might mean leaving a job, ending a relationship, or in very extreme cases might involve suicide.

A third, and more sustainable choice, requires multiple steps that result in personal growth, enhanced leadership, peace of mind, and an improved future state.

Step 1: Share Information. This requires a commitment from all parties to abide by professional rules of engagement, communicate in a respectful fashion, ask great questions, be willing to listen with an open mind, and search for the common interest from which a new approach can be built. A neutral third-party or outside experts can add value to this step assisting players to abandon their fear, cease the blame game, and sincerely collaborate to build a sustainable plan.

Step 2: Develop Expectations. The second step requires process to develop consensus around core values, mission, vision, goals and objectives. As options evolve, it is important to prioritize them and capitalize on early wins. Highly effective teams then work on tactical and strategic plans to implement what has been agreed to.

Step 3: Define Roles and Responsibilities. Team members must align on who does what, who reports to whom, who has authority, who we consult with, who needs to be informed, etc. In a perfect world, org charts and job descriptions document this section of work.

Step 4: Commitment vs. Involvement. It’s critical team members understand and support the key building blocks of commitment:
  • Conviction: The firm belief that change is needed and the direction is correct,
  • Capability: The ability to act effectively on commitments with talent, skills, and a support structure that produces positive results,
  • Courage: The emotional, gut commitment to the project and the willingness to do the right thing while making the necessary sacrifices.
Step 5: Measure Productivity. Team members must align on how progress will be measured and be willing to hold themselves and others accountable to the metrics designed. Leadership should create a “dashboard” that is accessible and kept current so behaviors can be adjusted as needed.

Step 6: Achieve Stability. With the successful execution of the preceding steps, the team will achieve a new sense of stability. Observable symptoms will include: sincere team engagement, client satisfaction, quality products and service, high returns on investment, high morale, positive attitudes, adherence to core values, and a sense of peace.

As the colonel often reminded me: “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional” and “People do not determine their futures, they determine their habits, and their habits determine their futures.” While not always easy or instinctual, I believe understanding and adhering to process outlined above will not only help smooth out transitions and adjust to changes, it will prepare your team for growth and a bright future.

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