During busy seasons like harvest, we can find it tough to keep track of all the activity that’s going on. One thing that’s typically constant, even with the busier pace, is the culture or work environment on the farm.

A farm’s culture can seem abstract. But building and maintaining a strong, positive culture can make a major difference for the farm in quality, efficiency and employee retention.

It also can become something positive that your farm is known for, which may help when it comes to recruiting and hiring the right employees.

Building a certain kind of culture on your farm doesn’t “just happen.” It takes some intentional thought and action from you, as the farm’s leader, to create the culture you want in your operation. Here are a few actions to consider:

1. Invest where the greatest potential returns lie. Consider the types of decisions that have the biggest impact on your farm. What are the skills or the ways that you and your employees can improve your decision-making in those particular areas? Choose to focus learning efforts within those areas.

2. Learn from mistakes. What happens when something doesn’t go the way you expected? A culture of learning helps everyone choose to learn from their mistakes in a transparent way, rather than hiding them out of fear. This can save a lot of time and energy for the farm’s leaders, and generate better future results.

3. Bring in a coach. Invite experts on different areas to visit your operation every so often for the sole purpose of teaching your team. The “coaches” can be your suppliers and advisers. Rather than a sales pitch, the sessions should be about educating your employees further on some particular aspect of ag. The coaches should be able to readily teach and educate you and your employees. If not, you might not have the right person on your team.

What’s Next?

During harvest, it can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks. But one of the responsibilities of the farm leader, in addition to building the farm’s culture, is to keep an eye toward the future.

That means thinking about what’s on the horizon for 2017 and your plans for the upcoming year. It also means considering what your strategy for 2017 will look like.

How will our farm best compete? How can we become more efficient? What do we need to learn or know to make us more competitive? How can we develop the right skills?

No one knows what 2017 is going to be like, but it can help to plan our approach. Start by thinking about the areas of your farm where you could make a big difference by learning new skills or trying out a new approach.

What do you need to focus on this winter to get those skills or position yourself or your farm for any challenges in 2017? In the coming months, take advantage of opportunities to learn and take your leadership to the next level.

Learning Opportunity

Have you ever noticed how the people who are most open to learning — and to actively pursuing learning opportunities — seem to be the ones who get ahead? That’s no accident.

Farm leaders who are lifelong learners are more likely to try creative approaches to problem-solving. Instead of getting frustrated or bogged down by issues, they are resilient and learn new ways of thinking.

I want to share a unique learning opportunity happening in January. Water Street EDGE is a two-day seminar featuring speakers David Kohl, Matt Roberts and others, including myself. The speakers will address some of the biggest issues on the minds of today’s farm leaders.

Think about the top one or two areas of your operation that, if improved, would make a major difference to your overall business. Then plan what you’ll do this winter to work on those skills or areas and step up your game.

The Water Street EDGE seminar will be Jan. 23-24 in Champaign, Ill. If you register before Dec. 26, you can get a 50 percent discount on your registration fee. Check out the speakers and topics, learn more and register at www.waterstreet.org/edge.

Darren Frye is president and CEO of Water Street Solutions, a farm consulting firm that helps farmers with the challenges they face in growing and improving their farms. Contact Frye at 866-249-2528 or waterstreet@waterstreet.org.

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