Need help? Get a business coach

The level of management skills in our farming community is generally low. The average farmer can change this by getting himself a good business coach.

Need help? Get a business coach

Novak Djokovic’s world ranking has slipped to number two, and he has hired tennis legend Boris Becker to help him get back to the number one spot. Golfing legend Tiger Woods, who continues to set new records on golf courses around the world, has been coached by Sean Foley since 2010.

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Amazing, isn’t it? These are amongst the most successful sportsmen in the world, yet they still feel that it’s necessary to have a coach!  What about you? Could a coach – a business coach, that is – help you to improve your managerial skills?
“A coach,” I hear you say. “That’s crazy! Farmers don’t need coaches!”  That was exactly my reaction some years back. What would my staff think? Was I such a weak manager that I needed someone to hold my hand?

How wrong I was! Think about it. If Djokovic, Woods and other sports stars around the world who are already at the top use coaches, why wouldn’t I, as a farmer and business manager aspiring to do a good job, benefit from having a coach? My rejection of the idea made no sense. But I imagine my reaction is typical of how most business managers, and especially farmers, would respond to such a suggestion.

The problem is that, whether we like it or not, the general level of management skills in our farming community is low. Everyone is an expert when it comes to production – in fact, they’re obsessed with it. Production is everything. Only matters relating to production are regarded as important. This is all well and good. Unfortunately, this one skill has come to overshadow all the others needed to run a modern business. And if you ignore these skills, no amount of production expertise can prevent you from becoming… well, counter-productive.

Wide array of skills
Talk to a farmer about varieties, fertiliser, breed types and pest and disease control and you are likely to get a well-informed response on every topic. Move the discussion to marketing principles, basic financial and accounting matters, foreign exchange management and the fundamentals of staff motivation, and there’s often a deathly hush.

Study groups covering production matters are well-attended. But run a workshop on financial literacy and there are more empty seats than occupied ones. This will have to change if we are going to build a thriving agriculture sector. We need managers with a balanced set of business management skills to take us into the future.

If you want to run a successful, profitable business you have to be more than a production machine. You need a wide array of general management skills. This means attending courses in marketing, finance and human resources, and rounding them all off with sound, one-on-one business coaching.

Understanding what they do
Business coaching is a new concept in South Africa, but old hat in the USA and Europe. And the first step to accepting it, is to properly understand the nature and role of the coach. A professional business coach is not someone who will simply hand out advice or proffer gems of wisdom from time to time. Instead, what you will get from an effective business coach is informed, independent guidance.

Ask your colleagues, employees, family and friends for advice and you are not likely to be told what is best for you or the organisation. Friends and family might not wish to offend you. Some will say what they think you want to hear. Colleagues could be more concerned about their own interests. A good business coach will tell it exactly as it is.

They have seen it all! They will have worked with various organisations in different industries and have first-hand experience of the things that work and the things that don’t. More than that, they will bring you fresh insights and ideas, the likes of which you are unlikely to get from anyone in your ‘inner circle’ or your industry colleagues.

Getting the balance right
It is so easy to get caught up in day-to-day operations and lose sight of the big picture. But a good coach will see the wood, not just the trees. He will help you to keep perspective and assist you in maintaining harmony between short- and long-term goals for your business. Importantly, he will also help you in balancing the conflicting demands of business, family and looking after your health.

A coach will quickly identify the issues and flaws in your management practices so often overlooked by you and never drawn to your attention by your subordinates or even your directors. Identify a good coach and get to work on becoming a great manager.

This article was originally published in the 7 February 2014 issue of Farmers Weekly.