Saturday, 1 February 2014

Lessons from Amish, Inc.

On a recent trip through the US, we stopped at a favourite location in south-east Pennsylvania.  This is an area that has a large Amish population.  These people are as recession proof a group as you can find.  And they are incredibly successful! 

As this was not our first trip to  the area, I decided to take some time and really observe this group in action.  There must be some lessons for us to apply to our daily activities.  Here are the top ten insights that I gleaned.

  1. Be focused.  Do what you do best and do it better than anyone else.  Long ago the Amish decided to be the best farmers and craftsmen that they could be.  Using livestock to pull plows and wagons, they have developed skill sets that have served them well for centuries.  And their yields are outstanding.
  2. Use everyone's talents in the best way.  Not everyone is gifted with the same skills and abilities.  But everyone can contribute something and the Amish are great at delegating responsibilities to the appropriate individuals.
  3. Train and equip before assigning work.  Before anyone is expected to take on a task, the leaders ensure that the individual has the training and tools to do the job properly.  No one is simply thrown into the fire and allowed to fail.
  4. Count the cost before you start.  The Amish do not take on debt.  Before they take on a task - buying more land; building a home or barn - they save the money and are able to pay for everything up front.  In this way there is never a serious concern if the harvest is less than expected.
  5. Be thankful, not entitled.  The community never 'expects' success.  They put in the hours and effort.  There is never a feeling of entitlement when things work out well.  Rather they are thankful and know the same level of effort must be applied the next day, the next month and the next year in order to achieve the results that they  need.
  6. Committed to the leadership.  Within the context of the community there are certain individuals who are nominated into leadership. From them, everyone understands the goals and the importance of their contributions.  Therefore they are committed to the leaders.
  7. Do something that gives you joy.  No one is forced to stay in the community.  At an age of maturity young people are even encouraged to take a year away to experience the broader world.  If they choose to return, it is because the community and the work fulfils brings them joy.
  8. Plan for succession.  Often the most difficult transition in any company is from one leadership group to the next.  The Amish have understood this for hundreds of years and have proven very adept at identifying and preparing the next generation of leaders.  Their results demonstrate the importance that they place on this process.
  9. Grow with a purpose.  With large families the rule and not the exception, the communities outgrow the available space.  As a result, expansion is a planned event.  They also understand that a new community cannot consist of one must be a community.  All the skills needed to support a community are represented in the families that participate in the expansion.  This ensures the greatest likelihood of success.  Nothing is left to chance.
  10. Be moral, ethical and legal.  The Amish operate with a religious imperative and these values are implicit in their operations.  But a lack of religion in your workplace does not mean that these principles should not be intrinsic to the way in which your company operates.  Employees, clients, suppliers and others all respond better when they know that you can be trusted to keep your word and to deal fairly.
Take a look, take a long look, at how Amish Incorporated has managed to outperform all others for almost 300 years.  They may not be the biggest land owners, they don`t drive Mercedes or BMW`s or any other German made vehicle.  Their horses and buggies won`t set land speed records. 
But they are successful, happy and content.  Their formula works and their principles set a fine example.  There`s not a lot wrong with that!

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