Editor's note: The CEO Corner contains editors' compilations of business news from top publications, which they have tailored for the dairy industry. In 2015, Sheryl Sandberg suffered a devastating loss when her husband was felled by a cardiac condition as the couple was vacationing in Mexico. Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, and Wharton Professor Adam Grant recently sat down with Harvard Business Review to discuss resilience.

The discussion has remarkable application for dairy farmers who, although they may not have suffered the loss of a spouse, still suffer the strain of a volatile industry.

We can expect that the unexpected will rock the foundations of our daily lives at some point. A few recent examples include the 75 farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota that recently lost their milk buyer, a farm in Ridott, Illinois, that suffered a flood so massive it could have wiped out its herd, an accident at World Dairy Expo that pinched a nerve in a man’s neck, leaving him helpless to assist his family in the fall harvest.

Advice from Sandberg and Grant can help you when the unexpected knocks the wind out of you. Resilience is key. The pair recently authored Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Our article includes aspects from the Harvard Business Review interview “Above all, acknowledge the pain” and not the book.

1. Gratitude and post-traumatic growth

The authors introduced the benefits of “post-traumatic growth.”


Grant spoke of psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. The pair worked with parents who had lost a child. “In addition to the tremendous pain they felt,” Grant said, “they also experienced some positive changes in their lives. Many people eventually felt stronger.” The parents who were studied developed an attitude of “I got through this; I can get through anything.”

Of course, surprise health and death crises don’t just happen to parents. While routinely unloading hay at World Dairy Expo last year, farmer George Halpin fell out of a trailer and landed on his head, pinching a nerve in his neck. Before World Dairy Expo, George’s brother Bill and nephew Mike could not possibly have known that they would soon lose an essential hand to their operation during the most critical time of the year.

When tragedy disintegrates our “norm,” the best thing we can do to be resilient is to find gratitude, to be grateful we got through the past and feel like we can now “get through anything.”

Sandberg talks about finding gratitude through hypothetical situations, such as her children weren’t in a car with her husband when he suffered the cardiac arrhythmia. Envisioning “it could be worse” scenarios might help with finding gratitude.

2. Learning from the past

Another essential key to post-traumatic growth is analyzing what happened.

All dairy farmers in the U.S. have suffered from an oversupply of milk and low milk prices. While hope seems to be around the corner, the future is never guaranteed. The 75 farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota who supplied Grassland Dairy Inc. had this startling reminder in April when they were told their processor could no longer accept their milk due to the loss of a competitive market.

While the trade policies of other nations and milk prices at home are outside of farmers’ control, it doesn’t mean they can’t be analyzed. Perhaps solutions for individuals are not out of reach. We recently published an article on Calkins Creamery, which buys milk from an associated family farm at $2 more than the current milk price. The creamery buys about 40 percent of Highland Farm’s milk output. They do it to sustain the farm.

A creamery may not be feasible for you; however, all-employee company debriefings may help you find solutions that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.

Sandberg recalled a trip the Facebook management team took to the Marine Corps training facility at Quantico, Virginia. They did some hard exercises there. After each exercise, Sandberg noticed the Marines would do a full debrief on everything that went wrong.

“We learned that if you do these debriefs and build them into the culture, you become an organization that keeps learning,” she said.

Feedback from those who are in and surround your farm is also a key to being a resilient operation. The milkers, herdsmen, drivers, veterinarian and your spouse have a perspective that is valuable because it is different. Different perspectives can help during and especially after a crisis.

“At work, the most powerful thing is learning from failure,” Grant said. “We all fail; we all make mistakes ... but [it’s] the only way we can build resilience.”

When Grant works with executives, he asks them to score not only their performance during a given episode, but also how well they take feedback afterward. Knowing that the success of your operation can depend on humbly taking feedback and insight from others can truly help with resilience.

3. Pre-traumatic growth

Tragedy doesn’t need to rock our foundations before we can learn from it. Incorporating lessons learned from others’ tragedies will significantly impact our power to be resilient. Sandberg calls this “pre-traumatic growth.”

In our May 25 issue, we featured Meier Meadows Farm near Ridott, Illinois, which suffered a massive flood in 2010. The herd easily could have drowned if not for the help from neighbors.

“We didn’t have any plan in place,” owner Glen Meier said. “It was nothing we had ever considered.”

In our article, we show how Meier and the community saved his herd. We also offer five steps to creating your own disaster plan, taken from suggestions from Dr. Mike Hutjens, professor emeritus of animal sciences at University of Illinois. Take time to read it and set up a pre-traumatic plan to be resilient.  end mark

Diantha Leavitt
Walt Cooley

PHOTO 1: Flood waters threatened the lives of the herd at Meier Meadows Farm near Ridott, Illinois, in 2010. Courtesy photo.