I think its fair to say that the past year has been very strange for most. For me, the last 12 months have been enlightening, testing, wonderful, hard and the steepest of learning curves. Throughout this year, I have learned how to apply my Agile skills to not just make the best of a bad situation, but to grow a business. Covid forced me to pause my ‘normal job’ as an Agile Coach, return to the fold and set about working on the family farm as my parents were both vulnerable.
You may have noticed that a lot of mechanics’ cars are poorly maintained, and for me, the farm was no different. As a coach that knows about efficiency, I knew it wasn’t being run to anywhere near it’s potential – the business was as inefficient as it could be! What can a Agile Coach do on a farm? Well, it turns out quite a bit!
What can a Agile Coach do on a farm? Well, it turns out quite a bit.
In my humble opinion whether your business is a little farm or a multi-billion corporation, the first thing you must know is what is your goal? If you don’t know what it is, then stop everything and work it out. Without everyone knowing where they are heading, strategic decision making will be near impossible. Next, what is your current position? What are your products? Do you understand your organisation? If you don’t recognise where you are now, what direction do you take to achieve your goal? Finally, what are your values? This one throws so many companies and can mean so many things. Additional revenue is the obvious one. Ensuring you are legislatively compliant. Improved customer experience. Values mean different things to different businesses, so make sure your team understands your specific values, and only do things that add to these.
When setting a goal, a statement can help. My advice? Try this simple experiment: at your next board meeting get everyone to write a succinct statement summarising what they expect the business to achieve in the next few months / years. If expectations are not broadly similar, you have some important work to do.
So what did I want to achieve on the farm? I wanted to create a stunning destination for anglers, tourists and wildlife enthusiasts, whilst also increasing revenue and automating wherever possible. I knew where we were going. I knew where we were at. And I knew our values. But how to achieve our goals?
How To Prioritise
I needed to throw some ideas around on how to achieve our goals. In normal times I’d take a team offsite and we’d work all of this out over a couple of days. We’d hash everything out and create team bonds. Brilliant. I highly recommend offsite strategic team building sessions, the investment will pay for itself 100 times over.
Brainstorming requires trust and psychological safety. The best leaders create a safe environment in which ideas can evolve and be discussed. Ok, there are sometimes silly ideas, but really all ideas should be considered. Agile is about being entrepreneurial, and a company cannot be trail blazers if people are not willing to take considered risks, or at least be willing to talk about taking risks. Get rid of blame culture, it’s unproductive, unhealthy and unlikely to retain good colleagues.
In regards to the farm, I had to prioritise my ideas and I did this using nothing more than my experience and intuition, targeting the easy initiatives with the biggest return on value. I started with what some would consider a difficult initiative: I wanted to automate all fishing bookings, to reduce the amount of time answering phone calls and queries. The result? 95% decrease in calls and 50% + increase in profit to date. It was a very good start, and the automation then allowed me more time on other projects.
How was I able to transform the farm successfully? I’d be doing it for years if I didn’t have a team working alongside me. How do you keep a team of over 20 people motivated?
- Kind Servant Leadership – be kind and ensure your team is kind and you will create an environment that thrives. A place that people want to be. Where friendships are made. Where people have each other’s backs.
- A Shared Goal – everyone knew what I was trying to achieve, and everyone bought into it. I held subtle visualisation sessions to help them see what our project would be like in five years. These sessions have enormous power. My teammates invested in the goal.
I made a few mistakes along the way, one being giving myself a deadline. As soon as I did, things stopped going so smoothly. There was an added pressure, I didn’t feel I had the time to check and test things. Instead, I did them as fast as I could to hit that date I had set for myself. I didn’t work any harder or longer, but I do believe quality suffered at a crucial point. If you have a trustworthy team, in my view you do not need a deadline. Trust it to be done, when it’s done. I know that’s a big ask but you don’t need to put pressure on highly motivated people. When things do go wrong, panicking fixes nothing. Asess what has gone wrong and work out how to fix it. Then most importantly of all, learn from it.
With a great team, you can achieve great things. People are far more motivated when they have visualised and fully understood the shared goals. Create a kind environment, I believe this is the most important lesson for any leader wishing to create a high performing team.
Like many people out there, this last year or so has been challenging for so many reasons and it has been an experience I will never forget. I leave our little farm very different from how it was a year ago: prettier, more profitable, and fully automated. As I now head back to my life as an Agile Coach, there are many lessons learned, the biggest being Agile isn’t just for technology. If it can work on a farm, it can work anywhere. Truthfully, I am not sure if it’s our little farm or me that has undergone the biggest transformation.