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Three historical principles lead to successful planning

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Success means different things to different people. Webster's short definition of success is simply a favorable outcome. A favorable outcome can be the result of efforts expended in running a business, executing a battle, improving personal health or just pursuing happiness. History shows us that favorable outcomes are more likely when plans are made and executed.

Much has been written about the Civil War, as it was a pivotal event in the history of our country. The outcome of the Civil War is known - it was favorable for one side and not for the other. Why did the Union win the war? Many opinions have been expressed on what led to the eventual outcome, but this article will discuss three elements about one battle that may have been the defining turning point of the war. Understanding these three things will help each of us in planning for success.

The Battle of Gettysburg is where the Army of the Potomac for the Union and the Army of Northern Virginia for the South met to fight for their respective beliefs. The three things that contributed to the success of the Army of the Potomac were

  1. positioning themselves correctly,
  2. protecting the high ground and
  3. defending the left flank.

Success is more likely if you, your farm or ranch, or your organization is first positioned for success. Major General John Buford, commander of two cavalry brigades for the Union, was first to arrive at Gettysburg. He thought strategically about what could happen when the Army of Northern Virginia arrived and how the Army of the Potomac could position themselves for success. If the Union Army could be in the right position when the battle started, it would give them a greater chance for victory. Much of why the Army of the Potomac was ultimately successful was because they were in the right position.

How can you as a farm or ranch owner position your operation for success? Some examples are structuring debt correctly so a drought or market downturn is not devastating, providing for adequate working capital, building infrastructure to increase efficiency, planning for expansion when opportunity arises, employing risk management strategies, sampling your soil, and gaining knowledge of the true costs of production, among many others.

When Major General George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, arrived at Gettysburg, he had one question - Are we on good ground? The commanders knew protecting and maintaining the high ground was to their advantage and key to their success in winning the battle. It became the center of their organization where the core of their strength was. Without the high ground, their chance for success was at risk.

When a farmer or rancher plans for success, what is his or her high ground? What elements exist that the farm simply cannot compromise and needs to protect at all costs? Your high ground could include employees, livestock genetics, capital, equity, relationships, quality assurance, reputation, trust, dependability, attitudes, morale, health programs, fairness, family time, respect, land or any number of different factors. What things are core to you and to the success of your agricultural operation?

The defense line of the Union Army at Gettysburg was shaped like a fishhook. At the end of the long part of the hook was their left flank - their most vulnerable area. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was commander of the 20th Regiment of Infantry, Maine Volunteers. He was assigned the left flank, locally referred to as Little Round Top, to defend and hold against the eventual charge of four regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia. Colonel Chamberlain knew that if they were defeated, the South would have a clear path to attack the Union Army from behind as well as cut off their supply lines. When the Maine Regiment ran out of ammunition, they fixed bayonets and charged, knowing that their fate would be either success or death. What is your left flank, the greatest threat to your success? It might be drought, flood, fire, low yields, disease, low prices, loss of a key employee, a dependable line of credit, or an extended period of either wet weather or extreme temperatures. Proper planning for these situations can help us be successful. Such events are much easier to overcome when plans are in place to deal with them.

Successful planning is not easy. It requires time, serious thought and then the commitment to carry out the plan. As you plan, consider where you should position your operation for the future. Discover your high ground - your most valuable resources - and also where your operation is the most vulnerable. The Army of the Potomac addressed these items and changed the destiny of our country. What could using these principles do for the success of your operation?

Dan Childs serves as a senior agricultural economics consultant at Noble Research Institute. After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural economics from Oklahoma State University, he served in the United States Army by working in the Pentagon. Before joining Noble in 1978, he spent time with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Oklahoma State University Extension service. He and his wife own and operate a small stocker operation.