Adapting to change will be a big part of survival in the dairy industry in the future, whether you are a producer, consultant or lender. King Hickman of GPS Dairy Consulting discussed dairy’s changing environment and shared strategies for staying ahead of the curve during the recent Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence (CDE) dairy industry roundtable meetings.

Barge emily
Communications and Marketing Manager / Center for Dairy Excellence

“Change used to take time, but the pace of change is ever-increasing in our society as we get more and more technology. We’re able to implement change faster, and I predict that pace is going to continue to increase,” Hickman said. “The only certainty is that change will continue to occur, so we’re going to have to learn how to operate in that changing environment and anticipate better.”

What exactly does this mean for agriculture? In addition to anticipating what changes need to happen at the farm level, Hickman said both dairy producers and consultants must master the art of successfully implementing those changes. However, based on research by John Kotter, author and “change leadership” expert, there is a 70% chance individuals will fail at implementing a change, Hickman said.

With so much time, money and energy needed to implement a change, yet such a high failure rate, Hickman shared several key strategies the dairy industry can take to increase its chance of success.

Step one: Enhance collaboration

Whether a consultant spearheading a change with dairy clients or a dairy producer implementing a change on their own operation, Hickman says it takes careful planning and change leadership to be successful. He shared a brief overview of where he sees the dairy industry now:

  • Consolidation of the industry will continue quickly.
  • Creation of more multi-site, single ownership dairies that require more expansive and collaborative consulting is occurring, especially in the Midwest.
  • Smaller dairies will need to become more efficient.
  • Anticipating and adapting to these trends will be critical to success.

Hickman said these trends will dictate the way all segments of the industry work together, and he encouraged more collaboration within the industry to develop shared goals to better anticipate these trends. If people are working together but do not share the same goals, they are cooperating, not collaborating, he said.

“As dairy consultants, we’re going to have to continue bringing more value. It’s the same with dairy farms. Your dairy is going to have to operate more as a team to recognize change, implement it and adapt to it,” Hickman said.

As consultants, collaboration involves forming communities of consultants directed toward a common purpose, so dairy clients receive the support, solutions and resources they deserve to be successful. At the dairy farm level, collaboration starts with defining goals. Determine what changes need to happen to reach those goals and identify potential collaborators necessary to move the dairy in the right direction.

“We’re all going to need to step up our leadership. When you start bringing groups of people together, it becomes harder,” Hickman explained. “We need to have a collaborative mindset, foster the environment and be able to work together. That involves developing new skills and capabilities.”

This could mean changing a communication style, the way they meet with clients or teams or how goals are set. Building leadership skills and enhancing the ability to work together is the first step in implementing a change.

Step two: Overcome resistance

Hickman asked meeting participants to imagine two individuals facing each other with their fists extended. If one individual randomly pushes against the other’s fists, the other person is likely to push back. Hickman said it is the same with change – every attempt at change will bring resistance.

He described three levels of resistance dairy producers and consultants might face:

  • Intellectual resistance – “I don’t get it.” “I don’t understand why we have to make this change.”
  • Emotional resistance – “I don’t like it.” “It doesn’t feel right to me.”
  • Personal resistance – “I don’t like you.” “I don’t agree with you.”

Whether it’s a dairy client, family members and employees, or key stakeholders, Hickman emphasized identifying the source of resistance and then developing a plan to create buy-in.

“You have to clarify how the changes are going to bring positive effects to their life. If you can motivate them, you can create a sense of urgency so you can make the change faster,” Hickman said. “You have to present a compelling visual of the change and what it will bring. The more people who buy in to your vision, the more likely you will be to successfully implement the change.”

Ultimately, no one will buy into the change unless they understand how the future will be better than the past; where they’re going needs to be better than where they are now. This is one of the only ways to beat resistance, he said.

Step three: Successfully integrate change

While resistance to change is natural, Hickman said following a change model helps successfully make it to the integration stage. These are the different stages of change:

  • Status quo – The way things are before a change happens.
  • Foreign element – Someone or something that comes into the picture and brings about the need for change.
  • Resistance – The immediate reaction to the potential change.
  • Chaos – What happens when you get through the resistance phase. You’re trying to implement the change, but people may be working against you or things aren’t working the way you expect.

“In the midst of the chaos that often occurs with implementing change, we often feel like we want to go back to the way things were. That’s what you have to avoid when you’re implementing a change,” Hickman said. “You have to get people through the chaos, so they don’t revert back to the way it was. As all that chaos is happening, make sure you’re measuring results and seeing success so people can start to buy into it.”

The final stage of the change model is integration. Successfully navigating the chaos and integrating the change into the dairy operation creates a new status quo. Understanding this model and the components that could affect stakeholders along the way is important for successful integration.

“No matter who you are, change is hard. Keep this model in mind. You’re going to encounter all of those things. As you start to recognize them, keep them in mind as you work to get team members through that,” Hickman added.

Are you ready?

While the majority of dairy professionals will agree that change is important, not everyone will be successful at implementing it. According to Hickman, readiness combined with capability and beliefs equates to change success.

Start by boosting your readiness and be honest in identifying where the key gaps are in the change model. Do employees have a negative attitude about the change? Is the perceived difficulty of the change high? Is there a lack of confidence about whether the change can actually happen?

“Thinking ahead, being prepared, and having the right conversations with the right people in the right order can help you identify where the gaps are and improve some of those elements. This can increase your probability of success,” Hickman shared.

Answering “yes” to most of the following questions makes it more likely that a solid strategy is in place to execute a change on a dairy operation:

  • Does the leader “walk the talk?” Are they willing to change themselves?
  • Is there a clearly defined difference between where you are now and where you want the change to take you?
  • Can everyone in the organization clearly see “what’s in it for me?” and how the change will benefit them?
  • Do you have a consistent approach or methodology to change?
  • Do you really believe and have the confidence you can successfully make the change you want to make?