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Candid Conversations with a Change Manager

If you’re becoming a regular at our webinars (which we hope you are), you would’ve had the opportunity to hear from Carmen Quade of Agrifocused. Carmen joined Kirby and Hannah of Safe Ag Systems as she shared her simple strategies, tips and tricks on how to prepare for change on farm.

Our takeaway - change doesn’t have to be scary, overwhelming or even that hard to implement. Just keep your cool and take it step by step. Sound like something you’d be interested in? Keep reading to learn more.

 

Kirby met Carmen for the first time back in 2023, and the reviews could not be more glowing - Carmen’s no-nonsense approach, intelligence, rural experience and wit had Kirby sold. Carmen founded Agrifocused after witnessing first-hand how much time was needed to be taken off farm to get upskilled in everything business. Carmen knew there had to be a better way for farmers, each family farming business comes with a unique challenge.

 

Why is change hard, especially for farmers?

Change is hard and don’t we know it! Change can feel hard especially when the people driving change aren’t recognised as leaders. In some circumstances, the leadership roles are shared which means there needs to be a consensus amongst a group - this makes change even harder. Implementing change within a family farming business is just different, as Carmen notes, “We can’t just sack people for non-compliance”.

So, why does change feel so hard? There is just so much in our industry that is out of our control, it's only human nature to hold on tight to the things we can control. Farmers battle the elements, extreme weather, government changes, stock prices and interest rates. Some personalities thrive in this type of environment and some people are overwhelmed.

 

Carmen best describes these two types of people as: steadfast solid people or change agents, “Change agents are motivated by change instead of things that are out of control”. It's human nature to desire some consistency to feel safe. If we had a positive experience previously, we'll try to replicate that again - like picking the same seat on a bus.

 

Change sits within bigger changes.

There are a variety of changes in farming, think technology, equipment and machinery, bloodlines or variety. Change to a role in the farming business; a generation coming up or moving into the elder/retired role, non-parent to parent - whilst growth is often positive, it still means things aren’t quite the same. Carmen explains, “people faced with change go through a series of emotional reactions”

  • shock
  • numbness
  • discounting
  • anger
  • anxiety
  • feeling low and lost
  • gradual acceptance and hope
  • internalization 
  • finally adaption

For farming businesses there can be two types of change happening concurrently; a younger generation moving into a leadership role and another heading towards their retirement phase. Two very different emotions to experience and we need to be aware. Change can make us self-centred in that change and not look to the excitement. Some people may get stuck in the feelings of being angry or anxious and feeling low. In this situation, Carmen recommends to put yourself in the shoes of the other person - how would you feel and where will you be in 10/20/30 years time?

When in a period of great change - we seek a feeling of control:

  • when there has been lots of change

  • when things are naturally out of our control

  • When we feel threatened

  • When we feel vulnerable

  • When we think we might look stupid

  • When we don’t feel valued

  • When we are not being listened to

  • When we are tired or overworked

  • When the mental load is too great

Change isn’t something we can stop, there are too many factors in play which means those things are going to continue. But, we need to make sure people know they are valued and are not being placed into a threatening situation.

 

Everyone of us is different

You’ve heard the quote, “Our differences are our strengths”. How boring life would be if we were all the same?

  • A step towards change includes identifying what everybody wants to get done - everyone has their own agenda for change.

  • Talk about longer term plans for the farming business

  • Think about a decision making structures

  • Example: Traffic light model - removes a lot of words and emotions

    • red is no

    • green is yes

    • orange - undecided and needs convincing

“Change won’t happen without clear communication and consultation with our team”

Implementation in family farming businesses

Carmen recommends to start by clearly defining the change and how it relates to your family farming business goals. To view Carmen’s template, download a copy of her presentation. Change related to profitability and success has been seen as an easier change to implement, especially when you can back your proposal up with numbers and data. Carmen has also found during change related to legislation, there are 2 types of people:

  • rule followers - if you have to do it, you have to do it

  • people that buck against the requirement - hate being told what to do

A persons response is also relevant to the environment they have found themselves in rather than a personal drive to achieve more. Where some personalities see an opportunity to grow and adapt, others may see it as a barrier. Communication and consultation underpins and sits behind a successful business - having those tough conversations.

 

Take it slow

Lots of change is overwhelming, Carmen suggests to think of change like moving stock - we aren’t there to do it as quickly as possible - we know that things need to take their natural course and if we try and push that, it can go pear shaped quickly.

Some recommendations when tackling change in your family farming business:

  • look at the task per quarter - a solid 3 months to implement something before moving on

  • set realistic priorities and make a plan

  • start small - can the change be broken down into components?

  • aim for a quick win - provide wider benefits that can get everybody on board

  • don’t sweat the small stuff

  • And take it back to the why - why are we doing it?

  • Don’t give up to soon - change takes longer than you think!

To learn more from Carmen, Kirby and Hannah continue watching our webinar below.

 

Topic: Candid Conversations

Disclaimer: Content on this website may be of relevance to users outside of Australia, but content links and examples are specific to Australia. Please check with your local authority for your country and industry requirements.

 

Originally published 29 February, 2024.

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