The NexGen: Adventures of two dairy daughters

Forging forward with focus

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A new year. A new start.

After the challenging year we have experienced, we are ready to close the chapter on 2023 and forge forward into 2024. The year arrives as a welcome finale to the busy harvest and holiday seasons, bringing with it a period of much-needed rest.

As such, these next few weeks are a great time to reflect on the previous year, reassess where we are currently and develop a vision for where we want to go. Setting intentions and goals for the upcoming year is crucial to the success of our dairy and is one thing that we are intentional about each January.

Spending time identifying and reflecting on the previous year’s bottlenecks and missed opportunities is important. Setting goals for the future of our dairy is the direction we give our team to steer our operation in the upcoming year.

There are a few important keys to the process of goal-setting.

First, a positive and open mindset for all involved is crucial during this time. It’s easy to come up with a list of all the things that went wrong. We must remember in this process to be grateful for what we have and where we are while discussing our opportunities for improvement this next year.

Focusing on things that kept us from achieving the next level of success is where we need to place our attention. Gather the key employees together and facilitate a discussion. Start by listing everything that went well. Then, create a list of what kept the dairy from being better. A positive, open mindset that allows for free thinking is crucial.

After the team has listed things they believe should be improved in the upcoming year, identify which item on that list is the one, specific limitation to the increased success of the operation. Identifying that bottleneck in the dairy is the key. There will be other issues that could be addressed, but they may not be the factor limiting progress.

If you are new to this process, we suggest selecting one item from the list to focus on and use it to create your goal. Goals should be clearly defined and specific. A goal we are focusing on this year is eliminating pneumonia in our post-weaning calves. In our example, we have chosen a specific group of animals, a specific disease process and a specific level to which we would like to reduce the incidence.

If this process seems challenging, another great place to start is to ask those closest advisors to your operation for their thoughts. A nutritionist, veterinarian or other consultant are great people to include in this process.

Once a goal has been set, write it down. Hang it up. Post it in the office, the vet room and the calf room. Hang it up wherever involved team members spend their time. Our goals are posted in our office as well as at face level above the counter in our veterinary room, so team members see them and remind themselves every day of where we need to focus our efforts.

Earl Nightingale wisely put it decades ago in “The Strangest Secret” where he said, “You are now, and you do become what you think about.” Choose your goal, and post it up for all to see and think about every day.

We like to take an additional step in our goal-setting process. After we have identified a bottleneck and set the goal we would like to achieve in the upcoming year, we then brainstorm a list of daily action steps that would allow us to move toward our goal. These do not need to be big action items.

Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head when he said, “Start small, think big. Don’t worry about too many things at once. Take a handful of simple things to begin with, and then progress to more complex ones.” Brainstorm simple action items that can be implemented every day for a month or two, and then review them. Do not try to do all the things at once. Choose one or two things, and do them well. In a month or two, the team can review the progress toward the goal and add more action items or pivot in a new direction if the results have been minimal.

The key to success at the end of the year comes down to this: daily, small steps that make your dairy better today than it was yesterday. That’s it. These small, daily wins will add up to a year of improvement and success. The goal sets the direction. It’s the North Star, the guiding light for the team. Join us in setting the course for a new year, a new adventure and the next generation of success.

Megan Schrupp and Ellen Stenger are sisters and co-owners of both NexGen Dairy and NexGen Market in Eden Valley, Minnesota. They can be reached at Nexgendairy@gmail.com.

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