July 14 2014 07:02 AM

Ten steps to improve your dairy that don't cost a dime.

Growth. Also known as improvement, advancement, prosperity or profit. Defined by Merriam-Webster as "progressive development."

Growth on your dairy farm doesn't necessarily mean adding more cows, diversifying with an on-site creamery or cropping more acres. Growth can be encouraged daily, by your actions, how you conduct business, interact with employees or solve challenges, and those things certainly impact your balance sheet.

Last week, I read an article by John C. Maxwell, a renowned author and expert on leadership and self-development, titled "Is Your Environment Holding You Back?" He touched on 10 characteristics of growth that should be present in a business:
  1. Others are ahead of you, benchmarks.

  2. You are continually challenged.

  3. Your focus is forward.

  4. The atmosphere is affirming.

  5. You are often out of your comfort zone.

  6. You wake up excited.

  7. Failure is not your enemy.

  8. Others are growing.

  9. People desire change.

  10. Growth is modeled and expected.

All of these items relate to farming on a daily basis, but let's expound upon just three below:

Failure is not your enemy.
As Maxwell states, "A growth environment gives you permission to make mistakes, admit them and learn from them." How do you expect to learn something new if you don't experience occasional failures? Don't fear it; learn from it.

People desire change.
"This is the way we've always done it!" is a phrase that's all too familiar in agriculture. That response does not encourage growth or a more efficient, effective way of completing a task or tackling a challenge. Check your thoughts and language.

Growth is modeled and expected.
Every person, at every level of the farm, from the owners to the calf feeders, needs to demonstrate growth. This is especially critical for owners and family members. You lead by example, positive and negative, whether you realize it or not.

Let's briefly turn this model to parenting. I'm thankful my parents encouraged me to make my own mistakes, and there were times my mistakes hurt, a lot. However, those mistakes taught me many lessons and made me wiser. So make sure you're not enabling your kids, both in the home and on the farm. Encourage them to become strong, independent future farmers who will carry on your legacy to become leaders in the industry.

I firmly believe that farmers are life-long learners, constantly growing, or you wouldn't be the successful entrepreneurs that you are. Give your farm a checkup. Make sure you're not a farm that is stuck in a rut, a working environment not conducive to growth, or worse, an environment that downright discourages growth.

Click here to read the complete John Maxwell article.

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The author, Ali Enerson, was the special publications editor, responsible for books, plans, distribution of the e-newsletter and various internal communication pieces. She grew up on a 60-cow dairy in northwest Wisconsin, and is a graduate of University of Wisconsin–Madison with a degree in life sciences communications.