A comment was made to me recently concerning institutional knowledge. While the comment was not related to production agriculture, the concept definitely has application in many ways.
Institutional knowledge is all of the experiences, processes, data, expertise, values, and information possessed by a company’s employees. Essentially, it defines a company’s history. This information can and does play a critical role in the success of a business and this is no less important for your ranch. At presentations this year I have stressed the need to know and understand your costs on the ranch. This is true for all of the financial information concerning your ranch.
Build and maintain that data in an easy to access database that works for you – one that is not a chore to maintain, but rather motivates you to update and assess the information as you make decisions for your ranch. Once you start the process and have a system, you can begin to organize historical information into the same format so you analyze trends or view specifically how a particular event such as a severe drought affected your costs. This is institutional knowledge and when formalized, that institutional knowledge specific to your ranch can be put to use in decision-making and managing risk.
So now that you have addressed the issue of finances and your business and hopefully, are feeling more comfortable with the process, let’s go the next step – incorporating experience into the process building a written record. Most ranchers keep a diary of ranch activities. Formalize that documentation of ranch activities and you have taken one more step toward creating a program with information specific to your ranch – the institutional knowledge that captures and quantifies the qualities that make your ranch not only unique, but sustainable. Whether it be analyzing marketing, the makeup of your herd, or providing a solid record of grazing performance and cost, you won’t regret the time spent building your ranch’s information base.
Creating this flow of information is one thing, but the key is building upon the information and, most importantly, using it. Furthermore, and just as important to this entire process is the importance of involving everyone on the ranch, particularly in a family operation. Everyone has “skin in the game” and provides input to achieving the end result. Institutional knowledge is important. Put it to work for you and your family on your ranch.