Stocktaking the business – the 4x4x4x4 Model

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Farmers often get busy with the day-to-day farming and struggle to bring all the business partners/family together to think about the direction of the business. Trying to have these discussions after dinner, in bed or when there are distractions can often lead to tensions that can derail or are detrimental to the discussion. 

Spending some time together as a family during holidays over the Christmas/New Year period is a good opportunity to reflect on the year just gone and perhaps think about the strategic direction of the business and where you are headed. Many people use the start of a new year to set a New Year’s resolution. This can be a good opportunity to resolve to continue good practices, change a behaviour that is holding you back, or to set goals for the year ahead.  

When presenting at a farm business management workshop a few years ago, a participant was telling me about a concept called the 4x4x4 model that he uses to great effect in his business. I am unsure about its origin, but it really resonated as a simple way of remembering some good habits to help improve your farm business. I have actually added a fourth “four” to make it the 4x4x4x4 model. Have a read, perhaps your new year’s resolution could be to adopt the 4x4x4x4 model for your business.

4x4x4x4 Model

4 – Try four new things in the business/on the farm. This might be trialling a new seed variety, joining the ewes at a slightly different time, or setting up some new paddock management software on your phone. Some new things will work, and some won’t, but you’ll never know if you don’t give it a shot!

4 – Attend four workshops/field days/seminars a year. This means getting off the farm and hearing new ideas, improving your skills, or attending a field day to investigate something new. While these activities are important for professional development, the social aspect cannot be underestimated. Particularly in times of stress (drought, fire, flood), being around other people in similar situations, and just having the opportunity to chat and normalise what is happening is very powerful. And as a bonus, you just might learn something new that can really work on your farm! While COVID-19 has made getting off farm difficult, attending events and seminars remotely can also be valuable. 

4 – Spend four weeks a year working on the business. Too often farmers get comfortable working in the business – doing the actual ‘dirty hands’ work. Really understanding your business well comes from spending some time in the office; working on the books, planning, budgeting, consulting experts, researching and learning. This time is often just as valuable (if not more so!) as getting your hands dirty. While four weeks a year might sound a lot, it’s around half a day a week. The important thing is to schedule this time regularly and make sure it happens – remember, this isn’t just lounging inside watching the tennis on a hot afternoon, it’s a legitimate use of your time and should take some priority. 

4 – Aim to take four weeks of holidays away from the farm. For most farmers this really takes some organising, and for some, the financial burden might be onerous (although you can still have a lot of fun for not much money). While you probably can’t take four weeks away from the farm in one chunk, there is evidence to suggest that you need to take at least a full week to allow time to unwind and properly recharge the batteries. If you pick a place and activities that you and the family really enjoy, you will be surprised how rejuvenated and energised you are when you get back to work. 

Are there any other 4’s you would add to this rule? Let us know by leaving a comment below. And if you’ve heard of the 4x4x4 model before or if you know where it originated, we’d love to hear that too!

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