Learning from the Best

What do Wegmans, a regional grocery store chain, and Salesforce, a software company, have in common? These two organizations both have held places on the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® list, and have stories to share that can help you on your farm. Does your farm resemble either of these enterprises? Perhaps you are already focused on learning from others who excel at what they do. Or maybe you would be surprised to learn that your business has more in common with these enterprises than you realize. And possibly, there are one or two tips that you can pick-up from how these organizations manage staff.  

Having held a position on the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® list for the past 20 years, Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. understands the value of professional development and employee empowerment. Staff are offered training opportunities to do their job well, including access to department universities, online resources, workshops, on-the-job training, and more. The company has also enacted programs to listen to employee feedback about strategies for continual improvement. Since front-line employees interact directly with customers, they have different perspectives from managers. Insight shared by these individuals can help improve customer relations and operational efficiency while creating a culture where all employees feel like their ideas matter.

With its inclusive culture and lead by example attitude, Salesforce ranked number 1 in the 2018 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® list.

In an effort to respond to concerns as they arise, the company has established a system to provide regular feedback from peers, employees, and managers, instead of relying on one annual review. This provides an important mechanism to help address issues before they arise and also offers a strategy to recognize outstanding work. Salesforce also shares big picture thinking with employees to bring perspective to the work – the company has established a process to transparently represent business goals and progress so that all staff can understand how they contribute towards the company’s success.  

Tractor being driven through the Hudson Valley.

Margarito Cansecos drives a tractor at Madura Farms in the Hudson Valley, where he works as a manager. Photo by Diana Molina Sosa LLC

At this point, you may be asking, how does this all relate to a farm business? While the enterprises are different, some of these lessons learned can be translated to farms. For example, are training programs in place at your farm to orient new employees? Is there a process to actively solicit and implement feedback from staff? These simple actions can go a long way to building a culture where employees feel confident in their work and that their contributions matter. Does your business conduct annual reviews for staff, or have another way to share feedback about performance? Establishing a formal system can help recognize positive behavior and offer a strategy to correct issues before they become chronic problems.  

If you pursued a career in farming, it’s likely your passion lies in aspects of production, being outdoors, or supporting the local food system. And it’s significantly less likely that you pursued this career so that you could become an expert in human resources. But as you rise through the ranks and seek new challenges and professional growth opportunities, you may find yourself managing staff. Considering the importance of labor on farms, managers play a key role in overseeing crews to effectively and efficiently accomplish tasks. And we have good news. There is now a growing body of resources available to New York farmers who want to improve their business through enhancing skills in management. 

Richard Stup, Cornell’s Agricultural Workforce Specialist was recently hired to address challenges facing the agricultural industry through educational programs and applied research. Visit the Cornell Agriculture Workforce Development website (http://agworkforce.cals.cornell.edu/) to learn more about management and leadership on farms. While there, you can also sign-up to the news post “The Ag Workforce Journal,” which provides regular articles on relevant topics. 

In August 2017, a Labor Ready Farmer project was also launched to support beginning farmers and Latino agricultural employees as they seek to gain and improve managerial skills. Recently, a 20 Minute Farm Manager webinar series was hosted, covering a range of topics, including creating a culture to attract employees, developing staff handbooks, writing job descriptions, understanding risks, and hiring, reviewing, and motivating employees. While the series took place live from April 2 through April 11, these webinars are available online to watch at your convenience. Many of the topics relate to some of the lessons we can learn from the FORTUNE 100 companies. More information on this project can be found online at: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/labor-ready-farmer/  

Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Eastern New York Commercial Hort Team and the Cornell Farmworker Program have also developed materials through a grant from NERME and USDA RMA. As a component of the project, “Good to Great in Ag Labor Management,” the team hosted workshops for farmers across New York State on managerial skills. Resources and information from this project are available on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/CCEAgLabor and on the Eastern NY Commercial Hort Program website enych.cce.cornell.edu. 

As you consider various resources available to improve your management skills, keep in mind that the path of a manager is a journey of continuous improvement. It takes time to enhance skills. Taking a few minutes a day or even once a week can go a long way to supporting you on this path. 

This work is supported by the USDA NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant no. 2017-70017-26837. Additional funding and support for this project comes from the NYS Office of New Americans, and the NYS Dept. of Agriculture & Markets.

Kat McCarthy

Through her role as the Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator at the Cornell Small Farms, Kat McCarthy supported the Labor Ready Farmer project from August 2017 through May 2018. 

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