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Welcome to the home of the Modern Farm Business® podcast, hosted weekly by Dean Heffta. Modern Farm Business translates proven methods and best practices from the business arena to today's modern farm leadership environment. We'll be learning from forward-thinking experts and discovering how to apply time-tested techniques to make real improvements on the farm.

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Mar 22, 2018

It’s easy to focus on the things we don’t want in life an business. We don’t want to run out of money. We don’t want our employees getting hurt. We don’t want the neighbor driving through our field. You get the picture. But in practice, diligent focus on what we do want helps us to better create thinking and action that aligns with achieving our goals. Today we’ll use some practical farming examples to apply this proactive mindset.

Safety on the farm
In many large organizations, a safety culture permeates everything they do. Meetings start with an identification of fire exits, you have to back into parking spots, safety glasses have to be worn at all times...the list goes on. They focus very hard on creating a safe work environment. However, on the farm the focus can very easily shift to what we don’t want. We don’t want people getting injured. We don’t want people running into things. We don’t want people slipping off things. “Don’t get hurt!” we say without any real thought or instruction on what we do want instead.

What’s interesting about a “Don’t Want” approach is that our brain processes in the positive. So when I say to you: “Don’t think of a pink elephant!” I would bet the first thing you thought of was a pink elephant. See, I didn’t tell you what I did want you to think of, so you didn’t have a positive element to process. Whereas if I had told you want I wanted you to think of a blue cow—you would have easily been able to focus your mind on what I do want you to think about.

So back to safety on the farm. As the leader, fostering a culture of safety—if that’s what you do want—falls on you. Here are some tools for you to apply the “Do Want” mindset to the safety of the farm.

Make a list of things or behaviors you find as problematic. Document the ways you’ve seen people get hurt or where you know there is a potential for injury. If you want, put the list on the whiteboard in the shop and enlist the team. This is the only time we’re going to use the “Don’t Want” mindset. On your list you might find things like jumping off of implements, going into bins alone, not using all of the steps of the semi, leaving the combine running while you work on it or maybe shutting off the forklift with the forks three feet off the ground. All of these are potential problems just waiting to happen.

Don’t get caught up in playing “Safety Whack-a-Mole.” You remember the game where plastic moles would pop up at random and you have to hit them on the head with a mallet? That’s what this can become—catching people doing the wrong thing. The problem is if we only focus on what we don’t want them doing, we haven’t replaced the behavior with what we do want. Example - we want everyone to use a three-point entry and exit system for trucks on your farm. We establish how we want it done, we train everyone how we want it done and why it’s so important. This is how we get in place first what we do want, and then we can coach behavior toward it. It gives us the ability as leaders and as co-workers to have a shared understanding of quality and how we do things—so rather than saying, “Hey, don’t jump out of the truck!” we can instead remind people, “Remember to use the three-point exit.” This focuses everyone on what we do want. It’s an approach which is useful whether you run a dentist’s office and you’re coaching people on how to greet patients, or you’re leading the school fund-raiser and there are some critical things you want to be sure people do.

Take the time to identify desired outcomes as well as key thinking and behavior expected from everyone involved. We can then teach those critical behaviors, explaining the WHY—and then coach behavior back to it. The other benefit of having the best practices identified is that when our team finds a better way—we can now improve training for everyone else.

I hope this has been a useful and thought-provoking episode. I encourage you to listen back through it and pull out one thing that you can try out this week to improve your own farm culture.

If you have stories or questions, you can always reach me at And if you have a couple of friends or neighbors that would benefit from this podcast, be sure to let them know about it. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to being with you again next week!