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0509 PD: Competitive advantage in a changing market

Aadron Rausch Published on 13 March 2009

Saturday morning: I should be waking up slowly, grabbing a cup of coffee and leisurely reading the morning news.

Instead I am jolted awake by my yellow lab (Tessa) trying to dislodge herself from under the bed following what I am sure was a hot pursuit of Archie, my orange tomcat. I fall back in bed thinking … “what is Tessa’s goal, why is it that she never changes her strategy, and why can’t she see the competitive advantage Archie has due to his size and agility?”

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I wonder how many business owners really examine their goals and strategies and remain flexible to maintain competitive advantage in the constantly changing market.

As a dairy producer, you probably keep a close eye on your business performance, cost of production, labor costs and income over feed costs; but how often do you think about your goals and strategies to stay ahead of the competition? We can get caught up in the day-to-day work and forget that business success means more than maintaining daily operations. Success means being alert to operational and market factors and flexible enough to make changes and react quickly and strategically.

Experts suggest that two of the most limit-setting practices of good business are:

1. failure to benchmark against the best in the industry

2. inability to remain strategic yet flexible in the way we approach business

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Benchmarking means that we know the competition – locally, nationally and globally – and we set our goals in line with industry bests. Strategic business management means short-and long-term planning to achieve specific goals over a specific period of time while remaining flexible to strategies or processes that may need to change along the way.

Planning ahead
Strong business means smart business. Producers who fully examine their operations stand back and objectively scrutinize where they are, where they have been and where they want to be. They stand back further and look at the “gold standard” of business operations, comparing their strengths and weaknesses to the best industry examples. With a broad understanding of internal business operations and external market factors, producers are ready to identify opportunities for business growth and threats that could get in the way. Finally, armed with strong facts, they are ready to set about creating short- and long-term business goals and flexible strategies for success.

Planning steps

Step 1: Examine your business (past, current and future).

Step 2: Keep employees engaged and informed.

Step 3: Explore the market.

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Step 4: Benchmark against the best.

Step 5: Clarify business and operational goals.

Step 6: Identify measurable outcomes.

Step 7: Establish action steps to achieve outcomes.

Step 8: Determine ways to measure effectiveness.

Step 9: Evaluate your efforts.

Step 10: Remain flexible and modify your approach as needed.

Getting employee buy-in
When we make changes to our business strategy, business protocol, direction and management structure can also be impacted. After all, you are trying to avoid past pitfalls and that often means changes in day-to-day business. So, how do you engage employees in the process to gain buy-in and support for business strategies?

Most of us operate best when we understand the goals and the steps required for goal achievement. Even better, when we are part of plan development, we feel more ownership and commitment to make things work. Engage employees in identifying company strengths. What is going well and what past challenges have been overcome that can inform action plans for the future? Ask employees to share ideas for reaching goals and overcoming challenges and make them a part of the discovery process. Remember, many employees have been in the industry a long time and bring valuable ideas and information to strategic planning.

Develop a communication plan for keeping employees in the loop every step of the way. Use managers and supervisors to share information with employees about plan development and to keep upper management informed about employee reactions and well-being. Be as transparent as possible and offer opportunities for open discussions and questions. Your employees are the lifeline of your business; so, make them a part of your future planning.

If you are still not sure how to get started, reach out to other producers, university resources and experts in the field through industry associations and networks. PD

Aadron Rausch
Director of Strategic Engagement
Clarian Arnett Health

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