I read a story the other day that reminded me about one of our business building concepts: the ability to put your business on autopilot. CRITICAL. This is my version of it, except I changed it a bit, so that you are looking through the lens of the kind of business that some might think is immune to strategic thinking, business improvement and the like. My point in doing that is to remind you that your business is NOT DIFFERENT. What applies, applies.
A young man home from college is out of work and walks up to a farmer’s place in rural Iowa, looking to earn some money before he heads back to school in the fall.
He knocks on the creaky wooden screen door, and soon a face appears at the door.
The farmer is an older guy, with a face wrinkled and tanned from years of hard work in the fields. When he shakes the young man’s hand, the young man can easily tell that the old guy is strong as a mule, despite his age. Kinda reminds me of my grandfather (RIP, Grandaddy).
Anyhow, the young man walks out to the barn and talks for a while with the farmer. The farmer takes a liking to the young man, but just isnt quite sure about him. Finally, as they sit down in the kitchen for a glass of tea with the farmer’s wife, he sizes the young man up with one last question: “Why should I hire you instead of going to town and finding a farm hand?”
The young man thinks for a moment and says “I can sleep soundly at night when the wind blows.”
The farmer studies the man’s face for a moment, still not quite sure, but extends a tan, wrinkled hand and says “Ok, we’ll give it a try.” Once the hand leaves to go get his things, the man’s wife lights into him, asking him what kind of comment that was and she makes it clear that she doesn’t think the new hand will work out.
Weeks go by. After being taught the right way to run the equipment, take care of the animals and tend to the crops, the hand is working out fine, doing his job well. A quiet young man, he spends his evenings reading in his room in the basement. For some reason, the farmer’s wife doesn’t care for the young man, but she can’t put her finger on the reason. She and the farmer discuss it almost every day, and the farmer convinces her daily that it’ll be ok. She’s not convinced, but she’s willing to give it some time.
Meanwhile, the farmer has been spending more and more time in town at the library and at the feed store. He’s taken a strong interest in studying new crops, new farming techniques, and the futures market. The hand is taking care of the heavy lifting back at the farm, but his wife is a little worried that her husband is letting the hand have too much run of the farm.
One particularly hot humid day, storm clouds started to form towards evening. It didn’t come on in a hurry, but it was obvious all afternoon that something was brewing – and this is tornado country. It appears that a long, hot day of work is going to end with a storm to cool things off. The farmer had brought some ice cream home today, so they settled down on the porch to enjoy a cool, sweet snack. The wife notices that the farmer left one of the windows down on the truck. Everyone has their hands full enjoying the ice cream, so the farmer says he’ll take care of it when they are done. An hour or so of eating ice cream, reading the paper and chatting about what’s going on in town causes everyone to forget the open window after a while.
As night comes, the wind changes direction and kicks up, steadily growing stronger. A few hours later, after everyone is in bed, the storm hits. Wind pelts the farmhouse and the barn, waves of rain turn the dusty driveway into muck and feed the thirst of the crops in the fields. The storm gets stronger, thundering and lightning more frequently and with stronger, gustier winds. The farmer’s wife is worried. Their hand is still down in his bed in the basement, sleeping deeply. She finally confronts the farmer with that face – the farm hand is lying in bed, being lazy, not worried about what is happening to the barn and the animals, their farm equipment, or the truck they drive to town.
The farmer, finally concerned that the hand is not doing his job, pulls on his galoshes and a jacket and runs out into the storm to check on the animals, close the window on the truck, and button down anything that was left open.
A few minutes later, he steps back onto the back porch of the farmhouse, where his wife helps him out of his soaked jacket and galoshes, and hands him a towel to wipe his glasses and face. Shortly after the farmer sits down to peel off his soaked coat and boots, marble-sized hail starts to fall for what seems like forever, but it has only been a few minutes.
Once he regains his composure from being pelted with rain and wind, she asks him, “I sure hope that hail didnt ruin the fields. Did you get everything fixed up?”
The farmer slides his glasses back on and takes his wife’s hand. He looks her in the eye and says: “The truck windows were already rolled up. The animals were in the barn, blinders were on the horses, all the gates and doors on the barn and chicken coop were closed up and barred. The tractor was pulled into the barn. Bags of fertilizer and seed that were sitting out in the sun for tomorrow’s work were covered with a tarp, tied down around them. All I did was walk around out there and get wet.”
She looked at him without a word for a moment and said “Lets get some sleep, it wont be long till morning.”
The farmer’s wife figured out that the hand felt he could sleep soundly at night when the wind blew because he knew he had taken care of his important tasks and everything is safe because he made sure of it before stopping for the day. At the end of the summer, she knew she and her husband would miss the young man.
When morning comes, they find that 2 of their crops are destroyed – beat to pieces by the hailstones. When the farmer and his wife return from the fields and sit down to talk about it, the farmer is relieved.
Their finances would be safe because some of the time he spent in town was used to learn about hedging crops on the futures market, a technique used primarily by savvy farmers who want to reduce their risk in an already-risky business.
Instead of spending all of his time in the fields and on his equipment and animals, the farm hand’s work allowed him to learn enough to take steps to prevent a terrible loss.
How does this relate to putting YOUR business on autopilot?
Certainly the farmer had to be sure that the hand did the work in the fields every day, as well as tending the equipment and buildings, etc. He hired the hand to help him put his farm on autopilot and he TRAINED him how to do the day to day work around the farm so that he could work on things that were more important to his business – and ended up saving it from financial disaster.
Don’t think that just because you are a “one man show” that you cant take advantage of this business success strategy. You can, and in fact, it’ll most likely help you take that next big leap.
Look around at your business. Examine every little thing you have to do. Look at the important work that isn’t getting done because you are working FOR your business, rather than ON your business.
Can your well-trained staff sleep when the wind blows? Can you?