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Fodder for Thought

Tomorrow's Top Farm Managers Will Be Very Different

Successful farm managers will be contrarians, ready and willing to challenge current management dogma.

 

A couple weeks ago I probed the question "What is your relationship with the future?" This relationship is fundamental in determining the outcome of each individual and even the industry as a whole future outcomes.

Understanding this relationship and choosing a positive perspective versus a negative one will ultimately be a huge factor in all future successes.

In a recorded lecture from July 2013 I recently listened to Gary Hamel, a renowned management thinker, author and co-founder of the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX). He takes this concept one step further, suggesting a reinvention of management for the 21st century is essential for business success in this millennium.

Hamel's vision of management "fit for the future" is resilient, inventive, inspiring and accountable.

He begins by taking us through a timeline. He starts by going back in time to 1890 when approximately 90% of the US population was still involved directly in agriculture. Around 1920 what we know today as "classic" principles of management were developed.

Hamel argues management is by far one of humanity's most important inventions. Fast forward to the last 50-60 years and he says you'll find that the way we manage organizations and businesses hardly changed during that half century.

"What we know as "modern" management was originally developed to maximize standardization, specialization, hierarchy, control and shareholder interest," Hamel says. "While that model delivered an immense contribution to global prosperity, the values driving our most powerful institutions are fundamentally at odds with those of this age." More on this later.

This same broad concept can easily be applied to agriculture. The shift in our society from agrarian to industrial and urban can be seen in the shift in US population from 90% involved in agriculture to less than 2% of the current population today. Along with this shift in culture, management systems evolved to cope with the adapting industry.

However, like author Seth Godin suggests, I would agree this "adaptation" was just that, a coping mechanism, a mere effort to tolerate the overwhelming changes which seem to keep increasing and flooding down the line.

Hyper change.

This hyper-accelerated rate of change is the first of the three challenges Hamel says stand in the way of innovating management to "fit the future".

Hamel says to imagine an exponential curve. On this curve place CO2 emissions, internet connections, data storage, mobile device connections and genome sequencing. Today more than ever before these types of things are increasing at an exponential rate. "One hundred years ago nothing changed this fast," he says.

Hyper competition.

Hyper-competition is Hamel's second challenge. With the advent of the internet, barriers to competition between businesses have come down. Today there is more opportunity and also more chance for businesses to fail. This hyper-competition factor increases the need for more innovation, more creativity and inventiveness.

"You must earn your place in the market every single day," says Hamel.

This challenge can easily be seen in the increased focus on food and agriculture by consumers and the growing influence which social media campaigns by businesses and farmers alike are having in the industry.

Ubiquitous knowledge.

Hamel's last and final challenge to management is the notion that knowledge has become a commodity. It is getting harder for organizations to be unique and bring something different to the marketplace. According to Hamel, it's now less about what kind of knowledge advantage do you have right now, and more about how fast are you creating new knowledge. An example of this could be the rise in farms, ranches and food retailers trying to differentiate themselves through niche marketing and specialty food labeling.

Given these challenges, Hamel says it's time to radically rethink how we manage our organizations and businesses. This includes the ways we mobilize people and organize resources. To do so, he gives a few suggestions, which are applicable even to agriculture, on how to possibly overcome these challenges in management and innovate new management systems more fitting for the future.

Hamel emphasizes that no matter what change it is that needs to be implemented, we must aim high and start working now.

"Don't be content to sit back and imitate somebody else's best practice," he says. "It's not good enough anymore."

In addition, to be a management innovator we must be contrarians who are ready and willing to challenge current management dogma -- meaning the standards that limit our current degrees of freedom.

In his lecture Hamel rhetorically asked the question, "What was management 100 years ago invented to solve?"

He answers by saying, "It wasn't a problem of being adaptable, innovative and inspiring."

Look outside.

To find the answers that will really help us Hamel says we must instead learn from the fringe.

"Innovation begins on the fringe, not the mainstream," he says. "Fortune 500s likely won't be driving this."

I see the same in agriculture. It is the ranchers taking alternative approaches, such as holistic management, managed grazing, profit-minded versus production-minded management that seem to be the ones having the most success running sustainable and profitable businesses. Whether we realize it or not the future is happening right now on the fringe.

Developing and innovating more fitting management systems for the future of agriculture is imperative to the sustainability of the industry. However, it is a task that will not come easy. A clear understanding of today's values of community, interdependence, freedom, flexibility, transparency, meritocracy and self-determination is necessary for success.

In fact, Hamel says it will be impossible to build a company fit for the future without building one fit for the human beings involved, including the customer

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