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Unleash the Pack

February 26, 2014

Industry leaders and experts help farmers navigate new terrain at Top Producer Seminar.

While more than 800 of the nation’s largest farmers, representing 30 states and more than 4 million acres, gathered at the 2014 Top Producer Seminar in Chicago, Ill., a bearish sentiment filtered through the crowd as speakers talked about the challenges and transitions ahead.

Setting and maintaining a strategy is the key takeaway from this year’s seminar, which led to the "Ahead of the Pack" theme. "As the market hits another wake of volatility, producers need new business skills to manage risk and improve their farms," says Jeanne Bernick, Top Producer editor.

The seminar also featured Top Producer of the Year Award winner and finalists. Congratulations to Lee Lubbers of Gregory, S.D., for being named the Top Producer of the Year and to Jay and Cara Myers of Colfax, N.D., and Joe Zumwalt of Warsaw, Ill., for being finalists.

Below is a little bit of flavor for what experts say is to come.

Human Resource Necessities

Tough times seem to be looming for the farm industry. Laura Cornille-Cannady, a farm business consultant who specializes in human resources, says farmers must maximize their assets, which includes cash, land, equipment and people. "In the U.S., if you have some dollars and cents, you can get the same kind of non-people assets as anyone else," she says. "Focus on people—they are a huge asset."

Cornille-Cannady shares these tips to help you fully maximize employee and team member talents.

Be on the same page. It might sound simple, but Cornille-Cannady says getting everyone on the same page is a key for success. It will also eliminate confusion and minimize conflict. "You must know what you want first," she says. "Then you define the goals, roles and rules."

Focus on results, not activities. Workers today are very visual. "Give them a clear picture," Cornille-Cannady says. "If words can’t describe it, show them and do it one time with them."

Avoid assumptions. "Don’t assume employees know," she says. "They likely don’t know what you want. Their experiences aren’t the same as yours."

Provide an organized task list. A shared task list is a great motivator. Cornille-Cannady suggests putting a whiteboard in the shop with all the tasks that need to be done. When someone completes a task, have them cross it out and put their initials by it. This will help tasks get done quicker and creates healthy competition.

Be specific. Tell employees what you want and what you don’t want to see. "Clearly define your expectations," she says. For example, telling employees to answer the office phone within three rings is much clearer than saying be responsive.

Understand why. Cornille-Cannady says overall, employees perform poorly for three reasons: lack of knowledge or understanding, lack of skills or abilities or lack of motivation. "You have to understand which one it is to make the fix," she says.

Compliment good behavior. "You get repeat performances by recognition, not rewards," she says. When you catch an employee doing something right, compliment them immediately. Cornille-Cannady says this can just be a quick word, but it will be taken to heart.

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - March 2014

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