Never Too Experienced To Learn

January 4, 2017 02:33 AM

By Sarah Beth Aubrey

Executive coaching is a first for this dairy industry leader

The year 2016 will probably be remembered as one of change by Cheri De Jong of Hartley, Texas. In January, she and her husband, Donald, received recognition as winners of the Top Producer of the Year Award. 

Even before the award, Cheri anticipated a constant flow of new projects and the opportunity to assess growth and business opportunities with Donald. She retired as president of a national organization and looked forward to taking on a more strategic role in the business and phasing out certain administrative and operational duties at AgriVision Farm Management. 

As the transition began, the De Jongs won a year of executive coaching with me and my firm, Aubrey Coaching & Training.

Early Steps. Initially, Donald and Cheri received coaching together and worked through the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment. Yet it soon became clear Cheri could use the coaching engagement time to cover topics surrounding her transition within the company. 

“I have not previously worked with a coach,” says Cheri, adding that she became willing to invest the time when she realized the coaching could benefit her and the operation. Being able to discuss key issues with someone who had an outsider’s perspective had its upside, particularly the opportunity to “bounce thoughts and ideas with someone who is truly a third party and not engaged in the business,” she says. 

Because coaching is a customized process, we decided to increase the number of calls for the year from quarterly to monthly. 

These monthly calls, combined with bimonthly progress emails and feedback, provided us with a great opportunity to speak regularly about issues Cheri had encountered or would face in the near future. It helped to discuss topics happening in real time, Cheri says, because she could “talk through issues and problems and find improved and better solutions.”

Coaching, Not Consulting. Like many farm leaders, Cheri is new to the concept of executive coaching. The experience has been valuable. Coaches provide a personalized agenda based on topics set by farm executives. That’s in contrast to bringing in a family business consultant or advisers such as lawyers or finance professionals. 

“It is different in the sense that this is focused on human capital within the business and improving that area, as well as reminders to do strategic planning and forward thinking and creating a plan in working with your staff,” Cheri says. 

She recognized if she wanted to make more time for strategic planning, some rerouting of her day-to-day responsibilities would be needed. We spent time dissecting key functions and even went back to basics by exploring how she handles interruptions from others. 

“This has been a good learning opportunity—discussing how to handle difficult HR situations as 
well as allowing me to manage my time and work more efficiently,” Cheri says. 

As the winner of Top Producer of the Year, Cheri De Jong received CEO coaching with Aubrey Coaching & Training courtesy of Bayer.

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