How to Change an Industry. Or Not.

I can’t hold back any longer. I have to weigh in on the Ontario government’s neonicotinoid ban.  I’m not interested in arguing the issue. I’m also not here to debate whether our agricultural industry is or isn’t doing enough to protect bees (or butterflies, birds, worms, water, etc.). The declining health of pollinators is a fact, and it concerns me. If it doesn’t concern you, it should because there isn’t perhaps a creature on earth more critical to human survival than the honeybee.

What perplexes me about this is how it has been handled by our government. Change is inevitable in every aspect of our lives; our businesses, industries, and societies must all change. Our human nature is to resist change, even when we know it’s inevitable. So, the true test of any leader is their ability to manage through change, articulating its urgency in a fashion that creates understanding and builds support for a vision of a better future. Stakeholders must feel empowered, which requires inclusion in the process and recognition of activities that move the initiative forward either as planned or through innovation. This recipe for successful change management has been widely accepted in the business community for 30 years now, since first being published by Harvard Business School’s John P. Kotter after observing hundreds of companies attempt to reinvent themselves. Through just about every step of this process our government has failed so far. If any business or organization attempted to push through changes in the fashion the government has employed, it would fail miserably and without question. There is no buy-in from key stakeholders, no trust or open communication and certainly no leadership.

Without a doubt, any successful change effort needs key leaders to be onside. Kotter sometimes refers to this as the “powerful coalition” because it includes individuals from diverse backgrounds who are trusted and credible among their peers. Successful transformations depend on this group, because their expertise and guidance ensures more effective communication and influences others to get on board faster. As recent as one year ago, this coalition existed. Farmers and the entire crop production sector, from seed companies to equipment manufacturers, understood the urgency of the situation and were committed to finding a solution to improve pollinator health. There was shared ownership up until the June 12, 2014 election. Either things weren’t moving fast enough for Glen Murray, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change or perhaps he just has a “bee in his bonnet” (pun intended) with farmers, because following the election, collaboration seemed to break down.  Surprise announcements, short deadlines and refusal to address farmers’ concerns further fractured the strained relationship farmers had with the urban-based Liberal government. No longer was there a coalition of stakeholders seeking solutions, rather the Minister, with the help of the Ontario Beekeepers Association and The Sierra Club, was now prescribing changes to agriculture instead.

In his work, Kotter observes “skipping steps creates the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result.”  Along these lines, the government might pass legislation they can record as a milestone, but will they have succeeded in reducing pollinator deaths? Certainly, they have succeeded in creating more red tape, a drain on already exhausted taxpayer dollars. Collectively, the resources spent on posturing and debating, without so much a mention of solutions, is a waste of everyone’s money – tax payers’ and farmers’. Had the government never cut out their key collaborators, the farmers, it could have been altogether avoided and we could be talking about solutions today, instead of regulation and protests.

The fact is, pollinator health is just one of many environmental issues with which farmers share concerns with other Canadians. There is common ground on which we can work together with government and nonprofit interests to find solutions. An inclusive approach could accomplish far more protecting our environment and improving agriculture sustainability. Wouldn’t this be far easier than arguing over agendas? It might even drive some innovation and growth out of Ontario’s largest economic sector. To me, that sounds like something that could even win some votes.

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4 thoughts on “How to Change an Industry. Or Not.

  1. There are three sides to every story. GFO needs to be held to account for some of this mess. My understanding is some comments were made to the Premier while she was Ag minister that were ill considered and positioned GFO as uncooperative on the neonic issue. GFO then refused to participate in the consultation process set out by the Minister and supported by the Premier’s mandate letter. GFO has bungled this issue to the point where they’ve burned all credibility with the Minister’s office.

    1. I was not aware of any comments made to the Premier, so I appreciate your comment, Harry and I believe you are totally fair in making it. The way in which our industry interacts with the government needs to change. Unfortunately, I think we’ve grown too accustomed to flying under the radar and letting others be our voice. I hope this served as a lesson for both farmers and the groups we employ to represent us that we need to step up and be more engaged in what is happening.

      It doesn’t change the fact that striving to work together would accomplish more. There is certainly room here for the government as I’ve expressed. In my opinion, there is a lesson here for producers and GFO that the rules of the game have changes. We can’t let others be our voice anymore, which we’ve kind of grown accustomed too. We need to take a more active role in these discussions, understand the issues and their impact on us. GFO’s role is to represent farmers of Ontario. I assume they are doing that. I think many farmers consider them to be leaders though also so they will take messaging cues from GFO too. I agree that boycotting the consultation process was a mistake. When you’re not at the table, it’s impossible to be heard. However, I think farmers were already feeling alienated from the process at that point.

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