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Articulating why your ranch or farm exists

Bob Milligan for Progressive Cattleman Published on 25 February 2019
Planning for day-to-day operations

I first taught about mission statements over 30 years ago. Over time, my thinking has continued to evolve and, hopefully, improve by including vision and values.

In this article, I share my current thinking on why all businesses and organizations – including farms and ranches – need to articulate their mission, vision and values, and perhaps a “motivational catchphrase.”

I grew up on a farm and have worked with farmers and ranchers all my life. I know:

  • You work hard.
  • You are determined to succeed.
  • You are passionate about what you do.
  • You want hard-working, determined partners and employees.

What is it that creates the willingness to work hard and be determined and passionate? I believe every rancher and farmer has something akin to mission, vision and values that drive them. Why then do we worry about mission, vision, values and a motivational catchphrase?

The reason is: With partners and employees, these drivers must be articulated and communicated. For partners, the mission, vision and values need to be discussed and articulated to be certain all are on the same page. Without this agreement, developing and implementing a successful strategy is difficult to impossible. For employees and other stakeholders, these must be articulated and communicated in a form that provides motivation for employees. This is what I call the motivational catchphrase.

Before continuing, I’ll share a non-farm example of the motivational catchphrase. A little over a year ago, my wife and I were part of a Road Scholar Travel trip to New England focused on trains and, at that time of year, fall color. In Lincoln, New Hampshire, the group met with a leader of Hobo Railroad. The railroad’s purpose is to provide a fun, relaxing, carefree outing for families. The name comes from the carefree nature of hobos. Their motivational catchphrase is “Creating Memories – One Ride at a Time.”

Mission, vision and values

Today, almost all ranches and farms have multiple partners, from two spouses to multiple family members to non-family partners. In my experience, the greatest source of conflict between partners and even business failure is lack of clarity or downright differences in mission, vision and values. I will never forget the story from one of our first extension programs with a focus on mission statements.

In discussion of the farm’s mission, a husband and wife both said: “I have thought we should sell the farm for a long time but have not said anything because I ‘know’ my spouse is committed to continuing.” They moved on to the next step in their lives very quickly.

What, then, should be included as mission, vision and values are articulated?

  • Mission: Mission is the reason the ranch or farm exists. Items like business growth, legacy, profitability, productivity, quality, professional development, etc., often are included. Mission is primarily for the owners, as it is crucial to the development of and implementation of the ranch’s or farm’s strategy.

  • Vision: Vision is the inspirational mental image of a successful future. This is the “why” the ranch or farm exists and is crucial to motivation and passion. The vision tells why what we do is important. Examples could be: “We feed families just like ours” or “Improving quality of life through quality food products.”

  • Values: Mission and vision are drivers of the future. Values tell us what is important and how to behave as we strive for that future. It is easy to make a long list of values. The challenge is to define the small number most important to the owners of the ranch or farm. Values greatly influence day-to-day decision-making. Examples include honesty, safety, stewardship, community involvement, customer orientation, etc.

There are many ways to articulate mission, vision and values. How you do it is not important. The key is: You include the what – mission, the why – vision, and the how – values. A great reference is: Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Work and Your Life by Ken Blanchard, Jesse Stoner and Patrick Lencioni. They use a fable to illustrate articulating significant purpose (mission), picture of the future (vision) and values.

Motivational catchphrase

After articulating the mission/vision/values, what/why/how for your ranch or farm, the next challenge is determining the best way to translate and communicate this information to create motivated, engaged, passionate employees and other stakeholders. One way is to create a motivational catchphrase to use as the focal point. The Hobo Railroad example, “Creating Memories – One Ride at a Time,” came from an interaction of a leader with a young boy who answered the question “Why are you here?” with “I am creating memories with my dad.”

Other common examples of motivational catchphrases are:

  • Apple: Challenge the status quo.

  • Southwest Airlines: You are now free to move about the country.

  • Disney: Provide good, clean fun.

  • University of Minnesota Gophers Women’s Hockey: Four values – tough, grateful, disciplined, devoted.

Putting it all together

As you articulate the mission, vision, values and motivational catchphrase (or other form of communicating to employees) for your ranch, farm or other organization, keep in mind the following two criteria:

1. It is meaningful to all owners to serve as the driver for the future and to create the willingness to work hard and be committed and passionate.

2. It can be articulated and communicated in a form that motivates employees to work hard and be committed and passionate.  end mark

PHOTO: Discussing an operation’s mission, vision and values will help motivate employees or family members in their day-to-day responsibilities. Photo by Ray Merritt.

Bob Milligan is also professor emeritus, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University.

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