When working with new clients, one of the questions we ask is, what's your farm culture? Job seekers want to know what it will be like to work there on a daily basis. The typical answer from most clients is, "Hmm ... I haven't given that much thought before."
Whether you have a team of 20 or two brothers operating on your farm, you have a company culture. It has either been created on purpose or most likely just developed over time. The definitions for company culture are vast, but in its simplest form it's the personality of the organization. It's the shared values, behaviors, and communication styles from the team. The real question is whether your culture is driving increased performance and creating an environment that attracts and retains strong employees or is hurting your full potential as an organization. It is amazing what a group of highly motivated individuals can do when they are all contributing at their highest level, bringing more ideas and value than you had ever imagined.
As owners and managers, we can consciously accept the current culture or choose to change it into something more desirable.
EVALUATING CURRENT CULTURE
It's hard to see what your culture is when you're there in the thick of it. Understand your environment by doing these three activities:
1. Be an observer. Watch for interactions between employees; how are they speaking to one another? Listen carefully to the wording your team uses when interacting with one another. Watch for body languages. Look around you; if someone walked in today, what would they have to say about your farm?
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2. Ask your employees. You can do this on an individual basis or in small teams depending on your farm size. Ask questions such as: If a friend were applying for a job here, how would you describe what's it like working here? Name one thing you do not like about working here. What do you love about working on our farm?
3. Conduct a confidential survey. Create your own survey or pull a template online to gather feedback from the team. Another option is to use an employee satisfaction survey to gauge your current team's view of their job and the company.
DEFINE YOUR IDEAL CULTURE
After a careful review of your current culture and taking a deep dive into what really drives performance in your organization, define your ideal culture. Start to list what elements you would like to see present in your culture. Those elements might be something like an environment of continuous learning, and defining what that would look like. There might be an element focused on driving creativity and innovative thinkers in the group. I would encourage an element that focuses on ensuring employees are valued for their efforts. Write down what elements you would like to see in your culture and communicate that to the team.
MAKING THE CHANGE
Analyzing and working toward an improved company culture is not a one-time event. It doesn't have to take a lot of time, but it does require a continuous focus and evaluation. Determine which changes and activities will have the most impact. Communicate with your employees where you would like to take the culture and what areas you will be focusing on to get there. Get your employees involved; create a team-committee with an employee as the lead to focus on initiatives that support the new culture. You may even consider giving the committee a budget to use toward their initiatives.
Just like old habits take time to break, so does changing a culture that has been entrenched for years, if not decades. The top farm cultures I know of say it's a constant work in progress.
TIPS FOR IMPROVING CULTURE
AgHires recently presented on a DTN/Progressive Farmer webinar with Sally Hollis of Lanehaven Farms called "Think Like Big Business: Creative Employee Benefits and Bonuses." Much of the discussion was focused on the intangible benefits farms can offer employees. I encourage you to watch the full webinar at https://goo.gl/….
You'll be amazed at how small changes and a focused effort will improve your overall culture and productivity on your farm.
Editor's note: Lori Culler grew up on a vegetable and grain farm and is the founder of AgHires (https://aghires.com/…), a national employment recruiting service and online ag job board based in Temperance, Michigan. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and find other labor management tips under Resources at www.dtnpf.com
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