Spring is a great time of the year for me and other basketball junkies, with the NCAA Championship in the mix. We select teams, whose members’ strengths complement each other, as favorites to fill out our brackets. Ones with a strong inside presence plus a talented backcourt rise to the top. The University of Florida is a classic example of a team focusing on strengths to succeed. Each player alone would not have been able to accomplish what they have done together —  winning a National College Championship.

Ahh, the art of identifying, building on and complementing talents, and then working as a team.

Like most participants in the pork industry, I tend to focus on facts and data based on the science and biology of the pig. Veterinary journals, animal science proceedings, industry magazines and technical references dominate my reading list.

While I am not quite ready to jump totally out of this box, I am at least peeking over the edge and reading organizational and people management best sellers.

The most recent book that has resulted in a personal paradigm shift is Marcus Buckingham’s Now, Discover your Strengths. Buckingham makes the point that each individual has specific talents, knowledge and skills that compose his or her strengths.

Certainly weaknesses exist, but one needs to focus on building on an individual’s or organization’s strengths and managing around the weaknesses.

With apologies for my overly simplified description, the author makes a convincing argument that focusing on a person’s natural strengths, instead of working to correct a weakness or deficiency, leads to more successful outcomes.

The concepts of discovering, developing and building on individual and organizational strengths have significant relevance in how we manage pork production and food companies today. They can be applied to players throughout the production system, including getting the most value from your swine veterinarians.

Play your game

It is easy in the heat of basketball competition to get caught up in the moment and move away from the game plan. How many times during the tournament did teams with big inside personnel, who had strong half-court games, try to run and gun, only to fall behind? Or do you remember seeing the huge, 7-footer, thinking he would become a three-point specialist, start roaming 30 feet away from where he could dominate underneath and end up neutralizing his strength? 

The analogy to the work force is quite obvious. For example, we see people who excel in managing the pig, but fall short at keeping detailed records. As herd consultants, we veterinarians tend to focus our time and the person’s energy in correcting this “weakness.” Instead, we should focus on exploiting the person’s strength and have him or her spend more time supervising more pigs, and delegate or find other creative ways to manage around the recordkeeping issue. In the end, this would result in greater job satisfaction, retention and system productivity.

As you look around your company, have you identified the company’s, the system’s and the workers’ strengths? Or for that matter, even your own?

Here are some questions to get your juices flowing:

  • Are you great at cutting costs or is your strength in improving product value?
  • Are you a great marketer or do you excel in throughput?
  • Is your business’ strength in meeting niche needs or are you a leader in low input production?
  • As a system, if you excel at producing weaned pigs shouldn’t that be the focus area for expansion and let others do the finishing?
  • How often do we see production systems that are in the top tier performance-wise switch the focus to cutting costs, and end up missing the mark on both counts?

Drafting your team

What is the strength of most swine veterinarians? It is disease diagnosis and treatment, that’s the basis for their education and training. Veterinarians have expertise in understanding pathogens, how the pig reacts to such agents, and the best means to prevent and control pathogens and diseases.

So, to gain the most value from your veterinarians, let them be the leaders in disease diagnosis, as well as monitoring and evaluation of interventions. Have trust and faith in their strengths.

That leads into another point; rarely do pork production systems and companies use only one veterinarian. You can capture more return by working with a team of swine veterinarians because individuals each have unique strengths (and weaknesses). Combine them and you have a recipe for well-thought-out advice and decision-making abilities. For the most part, egos are put aside for the synergism of the team.

While disease knowledge is the veterinarian’s core, each individual has specific expertise. We can all visualize individuals who offer extra talents, such as being particularly strong at training workers, understanding pig flow, interpreting data or addressing reproduction issues. We can put a face to the swine veterinarians who have a passion for animal welfare or food safety. Of course, there is still a need for those swine veterinarians who perform triage and can react quickly and accurately to put out a disease fire. 

As I watched the conclusion of the NCAA men’s basketball championship, it was clear that the teams with the 10 most talented shooters did not always win. Rather, the teams that progressed where the ones that had players whose skills complemented each other, and had coaches that could identify the strengths and apply each individual at the right time and place.

So, the take-home points are:

  • Be the best coach, build on your business’, your system’s and your team’s strengths and manage around weaknesses.
  • Work to expand your reading library and investigate other sources for nuggets of knowledge that you can apply to your business.
  • Finally, re-evaluate how you are using your veterinary team to maximize the individuals’ strengths to keep your company most competitive.