Based on my informal conversations with top-level producers from across the USA, Farm Futures Summit 2019 was a great success. I saw many farmers taking notes and talking with others about what they wanted to implement when they went home.
Several mentioned their business partner, father or son should have come to the conference to hear what was being said. They also had reservations about trying to implement needed changes on the farm because change is sometimes hard.
I spoke with Travis who was trying to scale up his ag retail business. When he tried to get his employees to go along with his ideas there was resistance, lack of commitment and poor follow through. He was stuck and couldn’t figure it out. We talked about the three levels of resistance to change and the light bulb went off.
3 levels of resistance
If you want to regain traction on a transition plan or business growth strategy you need to understand three root causes behind resistance to change.
Change is necessary to survive and thrive. No one operates their business the same way today as 15 years ago. Yet often changes in management practices lag behind farm production growth because of resistance to change. This is especially true in family businesses when family dynamics come into play.
There are three progressively difficult levels of resistance. Resisters may not verbalize their responses in exactly these words but it’s going through their head.
- “I don’t understand it” – This resistance is an intellectual response that is often easy to fix if you take the time. Often it means people lack information, training and often the exposure to the big picture. Use organized meetings, training and goal setting as a good place to start with this resistance. For example, if you want to change the ration for your dairy herd your partners may say things like “Why should we change something that is working just fine?” “What will this do to our feed costs?” Often getting facts out and walking through the process of how you arrived at your reasoning is enough to overcome this resistance.
- “I don’t like it” – This is an emotional response to change and this resistance cannot be overcome with training because it is often rooted in fear and loss. For example some common losses are:
- Loss of self-worth. Example: The founder resists transition planning.
- Loss of prestige. Example: Changing roles in the business could diminish status.
- Loss of control. Example: Estate planning that dilutes ownership which decreases power and control. Ever wonder why transition planning gets pushed down the road year after year? It’s often resistance to change coupled with a loss. A senior member of the farm may feel all of the losses mentioned above. They may feel that their best years are behind them and there is nothing interesting to look forward to. Additionally, they may not like it that the next generation is stepping into their shoes and working the business deals they once did. Finally, they may feel that by transitioning the business they will lose control of their farm. Transition planning is only one place this type of resistance shows up but there are many other scenarios as well. This emotionally based resistance takes time and trust to work through. Rush through this at your own peril if the stakes are high. It may take several conversations and a real desire to create a collaborative solution. Sometimes it also takes an outside facilitator to create that neutral space to work it through.
- “I don’t like you” – This resistance is based in lack of personal trust. It’s possible they either don’t like you personally, trust you as a leader or trust your motives. Whatever the root cause, overcoming this level of resistance is hard but not impossible. Maybe they have been burned in the past and are wary of change. Maybe as a leader, you have burned bridges. Whatever the reason, this level is tough but rarely impossible to fix if you are willing to self-examine and have patience in working through the resistance. Once again a neutral party may be required if this issue is significant.
Once you understand which level of resistance you are stuck on you can dig deep into the root causes. That’s what happened with Travis. Travis identified the level of resistance by having conversations with his employees and partners.
His employees felt the changes he was promoting were a fad like previous initiatives Travis had started and then let fail. They didn’t trust Travis to follow through as a leader so they didn’t want to put much effort into the project.
Travis found out the real reason for the lack of commitment and he was able to own up to his role and get traction on the changes his company needed to grow.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.