Keeping It Simple

Nothing is quite so revitalizing in business as a good conversation with somebody smart. Since most people are smarter than I am, finding that conversation is not particularly difficult. But you know what I mean.

Anyway, this past June I got to spend some time with Carl Casale, who’s been in place at the helm at CHS since late last year and who’s one of those interviews that you come away from feeling smarter. A goodly portion of what we discussed can be found in the cover story, but there were a few more interesting tidbits worth sharing.

One of the discussion lines that struck me was his explanation of what he called CHS’ “five aspirations.” Essentially, they are statements that, with absolute clarity, describe what CHS is trying to accomplish through its work every day. Casale noted that it took a ton of internal time and work to whittle these aspirations down to five, and then to get the wording to truly reflect the meaning. But when they roll them out and begin implementing them this fall, he’s confident that it will improve efficiency and performance.

“We want to word them in a way that any employee can look at them and know exactly what they need to do to make them happen,” says Casale. Eliminate the ambiguity. Get things done. In other words, make it simple.

Of course, that’s the conundrum. Making it simple can be a very complex exercise. I fall victim to the kind of thinking that’s made me a high-performing “doer” but a so-so “delegator” for most of my career: “I could probably get someone else on board with me to do this, but it would take longer to explain to you how to do it than it would for me to just do it myself.” I’m sure there’s a whole lot of you out there who resemble this remark.

Unfortunately, while operating this way might get you kudos for being the hardest working guy in the company, it costs you dearly. People who could eventually replace you on your way up the ladder never get trained to do your job. You become too valuable to promote. You stress out. You might even drop a few balls with customers and colleagues along the way.

My point is that it’s always worth the time and effort to get your team in the mix, all pushing in the same direction. To get there, the mission and vision of the company has to be clear. And that clarity doesn’t just drop out of the sky. Talking with Casale reminded me how important communication and buy-in are to moving an organization forward and keeping the messages crisp, clear and simple streamlines the process.

Now, one final word on simplicity from my experience at the InfoAg Conference in July. It was tremendous to hear so many equipment and software companies talking about their willingness to improve compatibility, to partner with each other and chip away at the inconsistencies that have plagued wider adoption of agriculture technology over the years.

Consolidation has served to pare down the number of companies and technologies to those that truly work. Now is the time for the survivors to figure out how to work together so that more retailers and growers can experience the agronomy and efficiency benefits of technology in agriculture.

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