Alumni stories

Sue Jolliffe – The great re-calibration to finding our better and new normal, without losing who we truly are

3 September 2020

Recently, who I am was significantly challenged by a complete stranger who suggested selling our dairy farm in the current environment was a good opportunity to capitalise on our asset.  I was then told I’d have no problem continuing to carve out my director’s career as a future pathway for myself. 

My complete and utter shock led me to reaffirm to this gentleman that I am first and foremost a primary producer, I identify as a farmer and don’t plan to change that.  While I love my industry roles, it is the contribution that I can make through them to agriculture and the profession of farming that makes them rewarding, but they are secondary to what I do and who I am.   

In considering the recent months and this conversation, I recognise how I have been leaning in that little bit more and pondering my role in this strange new world.  How to support and add value to my family, our team and those I engage with away from our own business amid such uncertainty?

During the early stages of Covid19 I closely observed leaders in various organisations and noted the array of responses.  Conservative approaches closely guided by the relevant health organisations advice right through to the more extreme measures which seemed less backed up by science but delivered in a way to make teams comfortable and provide certainty. 

What I continued to reflect on the most was the need to be flexible.  In recent years, ‘blessed are the flexible’ has been my mantra and this year it has served me well.  Particularly in supporting those around me as we have navigated such rapidly changing circumstances around our way of life, way of doing business and way of socially interacting.

Open communication has been key for us within our own team on the dairy.  This is especially with the need to ensure that the ever-changing protocols are communicated and understood but also understanding the impacts on our suppliers as well as the value chain and our customers. 

I was keen to do what I could where possible so jumped at the chance to help our processor with some video footage and comments about what the pandemic meant to us, but importantly that we knew it impacted our customers too, we are all in this together and nobody is untouched.

Many businesses looked to what they could to help others as well as find a new way of service provision.  In what has been the great pivot of business in 2020 we have seen hairdressers doing home colour drops, cafés supplying groceries, pubs doing home delivery and a mass of new online opportunities for deliveries, learning and health activities.

2020 could yet be recorded as the year that reminded Australians what it is to like to be part of a community.  Even in Regional Australia we sometimes haven’t taken stock of what community means to us because we live it every day.  But the last few months have highlighted that community is in our Aussie DNA and amongst all the empty shelves and panic buying, community and local small business has been there and filled the need even when face to face interaction has been challenging.

Things and businesses that had been considered small or less convenient have become relevant and important again.  The local grocer, butcher, postie and café, your neighbours and that cup of sugar or measure of flour to assist with the latest home baking. 

Many Australians have been able to use the recent months to breath and take stock, appreciating what they actually have, not dwelling on what they may have lost.   Workplaces may never be the same as a result.  One organisation I am familiar with found when they completed their six monthly cultural health check, their team were equally productive and happier with the new arrangements they had to implement with regards working from home.  Without commutes into the city they could see their children off to school, be home to cook dinner and spend more time with family, many don’t want to completely lose this new work model once restrictions ease.

Equally we have had to recalibrate how we do business on the farm.  Where we source materials from, quantities to have on hand and even who can physically service our needs amidst border closures and restrictions.  While some of this remains unresolved, there will be solutions, we just need to keep working through what they will look like.

In the various podcasts I’ve listened to during the quiet hours of freedom that this pandemic has provided, a comment along the lines of ‘the great pause needs to become the great recalibration’ struck a chord with me.  It’s what we have been doing in our own business but have we done enough and is there more that we can do as a society? 

When I think about this I think of the photo’s we’ve all seen that show nature and our environment rebounding during recent months.  Fish and seaweed appearing in the canals of Venice, major city skylines no longer obscured by air pollution and the Langtang Mountain range of the Himalayas now after over 30 years, visible from Kathmandu over 100 miles away due to clear skies.

So like so many I have been considering how do we evolve at the end of this pandemic?  How do we turn up to a new world and not just return to normal, but in fact how do we do better and maintain the positive changes many would say we’ve seen socially and environmentally? What have we learnt so that our supply chains and economies can also see the same positive changes that 2020 has provided the environment.  How do we sustain that change and do better? 

I know I’ll be doing everything I can to find our new and better normal at home with my family, in our business and through my industry engagement.  While the fact I identify as a farmer won’t change, how I engage and do business will likely be forever changed because of Covid19.  Let’s not see that as a bad thing but a better normal.

Simone Jolliffe, ARLP C24