I made a statement in the first article in this series, that labor issues may well be the biggest challenge ahead for producers and feeders alike. Facts! It is hard to find skilled labor that lasts. As many as 65% of our employees today are not working to their potential. Also, around 17% of our work force are bad apples. For most of the feeding industry real training programs are not currently in place.
What I see here is a set of genuine opportunities for beef veterinarians to get involved in building skill sets for ranch and feedlot employees which will in turn generate better execution and performance and happier employees that feel they are being invested in, which in turn should create lower turnover. Hopefully.
If we borrow the ideas from the book “Extreme Ownership,” leaders are people who make work easier and more efficient, who take total responsibility, are good communicators, coaches and are empathic to the daily situations which occur in agribusiness today. These ideas involve building a radius of middle managers who all take on total ownership of what they do and are independent thinkers and contributors.
I have started asking middle managers in my workshops if they think they could run the company without their head leader, going forward. To start with, there is doubt, but soon the group decides if they each contribute from their area of expertise, toward the whole, they could go forward without their top leader. This is what you want in your company.
Perhaps the most important question that needs to be asked today is why we do what we do. What mission and vision do we have towards producing safe, consistent and wholesome beef into the future?
If we can create climates within our beef companies today that are a safe place to express ideas, freedom to get the work done, and a sense of going somewhere positive in the future, can we attract real talent to come and work and stay for the long term? Our crews deserve to know the “why” in how we have built our therapy regimens and receiving protocols into feed yards. This process engenders respect and growth at the crew level. Both are healthy with regard to lowering turnover.
“Bait your hook to suit the fish,” when it comes to negotiating with crew and management towards the veterinarians role on the decision making team. Explaining why you would turn sick cattle out of your hospital systems or why you have used the antimicrobial you recommended are all opportunities to explain the “why” in what you do. The crew will both feel respected and that they have learned something they didn't know. Lastly don’t ever pass up the chance to shut up. To quote one my partners: “Don't forget to listen. A lot!”
When we conduct training meetings, don’t forget L.E.A.N. You need to be the leader. The meeting needs to start and stop on time, therefore being efficient. Have a written agenda. Lastly write down notes, and follow through with assigned tasks going forward to get stuff actually done.
When making decisions, consider what’s important and what’s urgent. One advantage we would have, as large animal veterinarians, is windshield time. This allows us to be better Q2 thinkers where we spend time thinking about the very important things that are not immediately urgent. This is an important place to think as a real leader. (Covey)
Most of the feeding companies I have worked for are family owned and operated. This creates two questions, not only do we have to navigate into the future but how do we effectively pass down power to younger family members. This undoubtedly will involve a lot of preparation, patience, intellectual humility, and tolerance for different ideas and behaviors, and I might add generational differences.
Is beef, or meat for that matter, going to go the way of Kodak? I am thinking about the stem-cell, test-tube meats that are being developed now. Our role as leaders and experts in beef production put us on the front line regarding food safety, prudent drug use, animal welfare including reducing animal pain, infections and mortality.
It’s time for creating diversified ideas to circumnavigate meat production in the future. Listening with hearing aids to our customer will be critical, to see where they will pull us. If we are not alert we will be producing 3x5 paper photos that take two weeks to develop.
Do we as beef veterinarians all need to be like Vince Lombardi, Jack Welch or Steve Jobs? No! But studying their styles for success is very helpful. Our charge going forward will be multifaceted. We will need to be active creative leaders on the decision teams, coaches, mentors, teachers, psychologists, and skilled negotiators. Gee that sounds easy! Start by listening really hard! Good Luck!
For more from Dr. MacGregor’s leadership series, see these articles on BovineVetOnline: