People Power: Strategy in turbulent times

By Robert Milligan

Three years ago, none of us could have imagined what would transpire in our dairy and agricultural industry, or in the general economy. I have been referring to this as TURBULENCE X TURBULENCE.

Since there is no indication either the dairy or general economy will return to anything approaching stability, it’s important we consider whether these changes mean we should view strategy differently. I think the answer is “yes.”

Some experts say we are in a “new normal”  characterized by three words: uncertainty, volatility and risk. I would argue the “new normal” is that there is no normal. Based on  current turbulence and the increasing diverse factors facing every dairy business, it is absolutely essential each business develop its own unique strategy.

Uncertainty, risk and volatility: These three words are too much alike and paint far too negative an image of the future. They have very different statistical properties, but refer to a similar idea.

Think about the three words you would use to describe our turbulent future. The three words I choose are: Change, urgency and opportunity. My suggested approach to developing strategy using those words in turbulent times is captured in this formula:

Embrace Change + True Urgency = Opportunity.


Embrace change

Our tendency is to think change is something we respond to. That view of change is a reactive response. To thrive in turbulent times, we must view change more proactively –  embrace it.

The proactive view of change should be applied both to how we view change external to our dairy business; and to change internal to our business.

The surprising conclusion of those who research change is we, as human beings, have only two patterns for response to change:

1) We perceive the change to be a loss.

2) We view the change as an opportunity.

Without going into detail about the patterns, we can easily conclude, whether as owners or employees, perceiving change as opportunity is preferred.

As business leaders, we are the ones to set the tone for everyone in our business. If we embrace change and believe it will create business opportunities, our partners and employees will be much more likely to view changes we introduce as opportunities.

What then, besides setting an example, can we do to increase the likelihood others will view the changes we initiate as opportunity:

• Involvement: The more we are involved in planning the change, the more likely it will be viewed as opportunity. Do not spring change on your employees. At minimum, provide them with a preview by seeking their ideas for improving your plans prior to finalizing everything.

• Control: The more we view that we are in control of our responsibilities and success, the more likely we will view change as opportunity. Be certain everyone understands why the change is important, and that they will be provided the training, support and coaching needed to succeed after the change.


True Urgency

John Kotter, world renowned change expert, argues (in an insightful book titled A Sense of Urgency) that successful change starts with a sense of urgency. The problem is most businesses facing financial pressure have either complacency or a false sense of urgency.

True urgency, both in Dr. Kotter’s and my experience, is rare, but feasible. Review the signs of complacency, false urgency and true urgency in the table below.

Dairy businesses wishing to develop a true urgency culture must first clearly identify what is important – mission, values, strategies, objectives and goals – and then focus on them every minute of every day. The phrase “relentlessly purging the irrelevant” has resonated with managers learning about strategy in turbulent times.

Two ways to quickly begin moving toward true urgency are: 1) show urgency yourself by focusing everything on the important; and 2) lead by example by always setting and meeting deadlines and commitments.

Remember: Embrace Change + True Urgency = Opportunity.


Robert Milligan, senior consultant with Dairy Strategies LLC, can be reached via phone: 651-647-0495; e-mail:, or website:


Review the signs of complacency, false urgency and true urgency