Experts offer insight to help create a positive work environment
As an employer, farmers create a culture on their farms whether it’s a conscious effort or not. Think about the culture of your farm, encourages Becky Frye, owner and controller of Water Street Solutions—an organization that helps farmers with profitability.
Frye prides herself on the "family" culture she helps maintain at Water Street. She ensures that the core values and the organization’s passion for serving producers are imparted to all new employees. "When you don’t define your culture, you teach negative things, too," she says.
"Take care of the dragon eggs before they become firebreathing monsters."
Culture is so much about the journey and the experience you have, Frye explains. It doesn’t take long to come up with your desired culture, but it does take thought, she says, encouraging farmers to set aside one or two days to give undivided attention to the topic.
"Gather your senior management team for a one-day retreat. During this retreat, create your core values. Ask yourself: Who are we? What do we want to look like? You must have a vision and mission statement.
A mission statement allows employees to measure if they are meeting goals."
The characteristics Frye and her husband have built their business around include: courage, commitment, loyalty, integrity, passion, stewardship and servant leadership. Frye says courage is different than not having fear, but knowing that an issue is more important than fear and taking the initiative to address it. "You must be willing to have crucial conversations," she says. "Take care of the dragon eggs before they become fire-breathing monsters."
A large part of building a successful culture has to do with how new employees are brought on board, Frye explains. Practices that help facilitate a strong culture include having an employee guide, ambassador partners and employee ridealongs. These all help foster relationships between people who have been with a business for a long period of time and new hires.
Shaun Duvall of Puentes/Bridges, a nonprofit organization that promotes cultural understanding, explains that good employers coach, train and correct when necessary. "Good employers accept mistakes and help employees learn from them," she says. "Don’t ask ‘why.’ This only offers an opportunity to make a lame excuse. Rather you should ask what was happening when the mistake took place. Were you feeling in a hurry, distracted, in charge, careless? What was going on at the time? Work with them to think how the mistake has affected the entire farm. Has it cost money and time? How has it inconvenienced others and you?"
Duvall says it’s important to close by asking how the mistake can be prevented from happening again.
"In helping employees learn from their mistakes, you want to stay away from questions with a yes-orno answer," she says. "You are looking for thought and input."
Duvall encourages farmers to recall a mistake they made. "If it was met with understanding and a chance to make it right, how did that feel?" she asks. "If it was met with punishment or blame, how did that feel? We are all moving toward being better people. Your employees are no different."
- February 2013