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The importance of allowing experimentation on your farm

Rena Striegel for Progressive Forage Published on 29 April 2019

A culture that allows for experimentation is not only good for an operation’s bottom line; it is also something leaders and employees value. Let’s face it, innovative cultures where experimentation is embraced are generally depicted as positive and fun places to work.

There are several key reasons for embracing experimentation as a key activity in your strategic plan.

First and foremost, creating a space for experimentation can encourage the sharing of ideas. In operations where experimentation is not encouraged, ideas are often lost because there is no process for vetting them. Putting a process in place to capture, discuss and fund ideas can encourage your team to come forward with ideas that can save time, improve bottom line profitability and create new opportunities for revenue.

Experimentation can also help to improve communication. Experimentation requires a high degree of collaboration. Environments where collaboration is encouraged can create a sense of collective responsibility. This can break down the perceived barriers of a formal job description. Keep in mind that collaboration should not get confused with consensus. Experimentation often requires rapid decisionmaking. Leaders who are responsible for the outcome will need to be empowered to make decisions.

Decision-making authority, when given within clear boundaries of the experiment, will increase the level of accountability and root out incompetence. Experimentation requires leaders are accountable for not only the idea but also the results. In a culture driven by accountability, individuals are expected to make decisions and own the consequences.

Encouraging experimentation

If experimentation has never been formally encouraged in your operation, you may want to spend some time considering the following: First, what are your limits? Are you experimenting to learn, or do you need to have results that are marketable immediately? In either case, experimentation should not be approached in an unplanned manner; rather, an experiment should be designed rigorously to yield as much information as possible.

Establish clear criteria agreed upon by the leadership team, regarding results at the beginning in order to decide whether to move forward, modify or kill an idea. This is essential in order to prevent emotions from getting in the way of data-driven decisionmaking. You should also have clarity regarding what you are prepared to commit to if results of the experiment are favorable.

Next, consider how big the experiment needs to be to get viable results. Keep in mind that you don’t have to fully commit to a large-scale experiment to get valid results. If the commitment is more than you feel your operation can bear, collaborate with another organization or operation that might be interested in experimenting in the same area. Starting small will often give you enough data to know if you want to proceed with a larger investment of resources.

Third, consider your ability to communicate openly as a team. People often feel uncomfortable challenging another person’s ideas. Experimentation requires that ideas be openly discussed and debated in order to get the best results. Some cultures have a belief debate is “rude” or “disrespectful.”

If your culture is one where candor is not encouraged, you may need to spend some time working with your team to open lines of communication and remove roadblocks that prevent honest straightforward dialogue. As a leader, you can set the tone through your own behavior by encouraging your team to critique one of your ideas. Keep in mind that this may require patience. There may be mistrust or a lack of participation if your operation has never encouraged leaders to share their ideas. Communication patterns often take time and effort to change.

Finally, determine your tolerance for failure. You may find you have focused on excellence for so long that a failure is not acceptable. It is important to keep focus on the fact you are experimenting, and the expected outcome may not occur in the first year. There is a sharp contrast between productive and unproductive failures. A productive failure will yield valuable information relative to its cost. Spend time laying out what you want to have answered as a part of your experimentation process so you know what you “must” get in terms of learned information.

As the economic climate gets more and more competitive, operations that find space in their strategic plans for experimentation will find they are able to integrate new ideas and technology in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Leaders of these operations will also find they are able to work more collaboratively, have an increased ability to discuss opportunities candidly with a high level of accountability and are able to gather data relevant in making strategic decisions.  end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Philip Warren.

Rena Striegel
  • Rena Striegel

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  • Transition Point Business Advisors
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