B+LNZ works for all sheep and beef farmers, delivering tools and services that help farmers make better business decisions for their farms, and promotes farmers’ collective interests. CEO Scott Champion is honest about the situation the organisation found itself in six years ago, after the 2009 referendum result which saw farmers retain the organisation by a narrow majority.
“We did a deep dive on what had happened after that and realised that many famers had no idea what we did,” he says. “We hadn’t articulated our mission, and what’s more, we hadn’t asked farmers what they wanted us to do.”
Anyone who delivers products and services needs to embrace this way of thinking.Scott Champion
Scott – aware for a while that B+LNZ was facing difficulty in terms of farmer recognition and satisfaction – had been knocking on the door of Better by Design for some time. In his own view, B+LNZ initially struggled to connect and articulate how Better by Design might be able to help achieve its own goals through supporting an organisation like his, which wasn’t the product-focused company the Better by Design programme would normally work with.
But Better by Design had moved from a consultancy to a coaching model; empowering its client companies to make a lasting change by providing design thinking tools and training. Scott was convinced that these were as applicable to a non-profit industry organisation as they were to a commercial concern.
Design thinking in action – putting the farmer at the centre
Scott and his senior managers embraced the Better by Design coaching, taking what they learned when devising the 2015 farmer referendum on the direction B+LNZ would travel in the following six years.
“There was a pivotal moment for me when another manager and I were on the road in the Wairarapa. We found out there was going to be two or three farmer discussion groups meeting in the two-day period and we turned up.
“It was different to the way we had normally done things; ensuring we were testing every issue, looking at every region – we were traditionally technical and process oriented and tended to get bogged down, reducing our ability to be nimble and responsive, which is what farmers wanted us to be.
“Here we were, just listening to what these groups of farmers were saying – we got some great insights from these informal groups that really helped and perhaps equally importantly gave great confidence as to the right approach for us.”Scott says getting the organisation to embrace the idea that it had ‘customers’ – despite being a non-profit industry body – and that ‘customer service’ was key to its survival, was a major step in B+LNZ’s evolution.
“Anyone who delivers products and services needs to embrace this way of thinking. If you want to deliver, and whether the motive is around industry growth, government service delivery or profit, I think the benefit of using design-thinking is the same.”
The change within B+LNZ is ongoing as it deepens its understanding and use of design thinking. There are more cross-organisational project teams and these always start with farmer insight and often involve farmers directly in co-creating the services that they want. B+LNZ also created seven Farmer Councils across the country to help drive grass roots engagement and to allow its programmes to be better tailored to the needs of the different regions and different farming systems.
All of this evolved from putting the client at the center of the relationship – a key precept of the Better by Design approach.
Looking to the future
While farmers have responded positively to the evolution of B+LNZ and the organisation is now far from its situation six years ago, Scott says it must still be vigilant to ensure it uses a design thinking-based approach across the business.
“Every time we start something new or want to change something, the key to success we’ve found is pausing and thinking ‘hang on, from a ‘first principles’ point of view, using some of the Design Thinking tools and methodologies we’ve been taught, how would I go about this?’ You’ve got to transition from intellectually knowing it’s useful to practically knowing it’s useful – and they’re two different things.”
It's very real and it's made a real difference to us.Scott Champion
Knowing that CEO engagement is central to the success of Design Thinking, Scott works tirelessly to impress upon his people that it’s not just a trendy new management theory or a bunch of meaningless jargon.
“It’s very real, and it’s made a real difference to us, but it comes back to something pretty fundamental really – understanding humans, understanding what makes a difference to humans, and then communicating that back in human terms.”
More about Beef + Lamb New Zealand
B+LNZ works for all sheep and beef farmers, delivering tools and services that help farmers make better business decisions for their farms, and promotes farmers’ collective interests. It works across research and development; market development; skills and capability; economic analysis and forecasting; technical and trade policy; extension (an ag term for tech transfer or commercialisation of innovation on farm); as well as advocacy on behalf of farmers on the key issues of the day.