It used to be easy: the farm family unit had a common goal of making money and passing down the farm. But operations are larger and more complex now. To ensure your employees are on the same page about your business’s vision, encourage your team to be ambassadors for your operation.
The vision and mission is where it starts, says Bob Milligan, senior consultant with Dairy Strategies. Developing those assets can be the most difficult step.
“Vision is what motivates the founder and current owner to work hard in any business; vision is much more difficult to articulate than the farm’s mission,” Milligan says. “The best example I know is the struggle many of us have with telling someone we love why we love them. It’s not that we don’t love them—it’s just hard to articulate those feelings.”
Create a succinct vision, suggests Bob Grace, principal consultant with The Leadership Effect. “There needs to be a structure of values that holds complex ideas and situations together in a simple model,” he says.
Regularly communicate that model with your employees, Grace adds. It might feel like over-communication but, “as I have said to many leaders, ‘When you are sick of talking about something, employees are just starting to listen,’” he says.
Advocates for Ag. Helping your employees be ambassadors for your business also teaches them to be leaders in the industry. “Often, when farmers are looking at their growing operations they don’t have communications top of mind, but we’re seeing more and more producers develop a communications strategy to tell people what they’re doing on their farm,” says Cory Wightman, director of external communications for Crop Science, a division of Bayer.
Four years ago, Bayer launched an advocacy program to help farmers and other industry stakeholders have smart conversations with consumers about modern agriculture.
“Many consumers are disconnected from agriculture, yet they’re influencing policy,” she says. “We need to continue to help consumers understand the motivations behind the innovations used in agriculture. Getting out there and being an advocate requires practice.”
Use role play and practice, so the right words become routine for employees, Grace suggests.
“Look for opportunities to have employees be active participants in the training,” he says. “Solve cases together, work in role plays and address critical incidents, such as how would you handle a situation, followed by a discussion.”
Sincerity and passion play a vital role. Employees won’t be ambassadors if they’re not engaged, Milligan says. To be engaged, they have to embrace the vision, too.
Are You Ready to Make Memories?
Bob Milligan and his wife were on a fall tour in New England focused on railroads. “We were meeting with a marketing manager for a railroad company in New Hampshire whose brand is ‘making memories one ride at a time,’” says Milligan, senior consultant with Dairy Strategies.
As Milligan remembers, the marketing manager said the story came from one of the owners. He was talking with a father and his two sons when he asked one of the boys, “Why are you here?” The young man answered, “I’m here making memories with my dad.”
“Before we can be brand ambassadors, we have to know what the brand is,” Milligan says. “It’s easy to articulate what we are and who we are but very difficult to articulate why we are, and it’s the why that engages people. That’s the real challenge before you even start: To figure out how you get the employees to do it, you have to be able to articulate it.”
Tell—and show—your employees what’s important to you, and their engagement will follow. People don’t tell other people they love what they do because their boss told them to, Milligan explains. They say it because they’re excited about what they do.