Every farm has its own culture. But what’s more important is whether your farm has an intentional culture—or if it just "happened" along the way.
We occasionally facilitate workshops for farm leaders who want to learn more about how to manage their employees. That’s a big topic for farm leaders—not just in terms of finding, hiring, managing and coaching—but also considering how to create the right culture on the farm and the leader’s role in doing that.
We commonly hear afterward that some of the farmers had come to the workshop looking for ways to fix their employees. But while going through the session, they said they’d realized that the problems actually started with themselves as the leader.
Build the right environment
These farmers recognized their responsibility, as their farm’s leader, for what they had been doing—or not doing—to foster the right environment on their farm. When it comes to the farm’s culture—the environment on the farm—there tends to be a sense on most farms that we work hard and we just get stuff done.
But the leaders may not yet have explored the farm’s culture as something that needs to be created intentionally. It might be easy to think that the farm’s culture is something that "just happens," that occurs on its own. The problem is that a hands-off approach can mean the culture becomes something totally different than what the farm leader wanted.
The farm leader may begin to realize that if they don’t define the farm’s culture, no one else will. The key is for the farm’s leadership to intentionally take time to decide how employee behaviors and actions will be handled in the operation.
They need to consider what will be celebrated, rewarded, punished, interviewed for. What are the qualities that the farm will look for in a new potential hire? What will be "lines in the sand"—that an employee would be fired for?
Questions to ask
We’ve found that by asking these types of questions with farm leaders, the leaders have been able to better define and start working toward creating the type of culture they really want on their farms. It may be helpful for the farm’s leaders to work with an outside facilitator to help guide these discussions, along with strategic discussions and planning for the farm’s future.
- What does our operation value?
- Have we been clear about these values with our employees—and each other?
- Toward what values are we going to coach our employees? How will we coach them?
- Have we defined what behaviors we will or won’t tolerate—and what we’ll celebrate?
- What is the type of environment or culture we want to create on our farm? Why?
- How will we know that the right culture is alive and well? How do we know when we’re successful?