There is a disconnect between the statistical category “farm labour” and every farming enterprise’s desire to employ “good people”, because good people seldom want to be just farm labour.
Good people want to be part of a good enterprise. A good enterprise supports the ambitions, ideals, or self-worth — preferably the trifecta — of those that work within it.
The 2015 Nuffield Scholar Reece Curwen, in his report “Growing Your Business With People”, noted that businesses that were attractive to high-value employees tend to have a compelling culture: a clear vision, a respected leader moving toward that vision and good people supporting the leader.
Renumeration is important, of course, but an attractive business culture will draw the best people because it provides meaning. Meaning provides a reason to decide in favour of one product over another.
In a time when we are information-rich and time-poor, we have seen the rise of the “purpose-driven brand” across all markets because, when given choice — and these days, there is always choice — people will choose to buy from or work with businesses that align with their values.
Considering business values will be a new idea for many farm businesses.
But operating without a purpose other than the cyclical labour of producing a commodity for the greatest profit is unlikely to yield the best results for the business, or from the people within it.
Reece Curwen quotes Bob Milligan, senior consultant at Dairy Strategies, LLC, as saying: “If the leader of the organisation can't clearly articulate why the organisation exists in terms beyond its products or services, then how does he expect employees to know why to come to work?”. This is a question that the agricultural sector needs to address, with a degree of urgency.
It seems that almost weekly there are conferences around a technology-driven future for agriculture, but the future of farming, like the past, will be driven by smart, bold, energetic people.
The flow of those people into agriculture is starting to increase – but slowly, while those currently engaged in agriculture get greyer. Perhaps we can solve this issue with automation – but automation alone doesn’t make a good enterprise.
As an industry, we need to get better at putting meaning into agriculture beyond the media stereotypes.
As independent entrepreneurial businesses, we need to identify why we are here – looking beyond the past negative connotations of being in the heat and flies, working from dark to dark, with no desire to do anything else.
When you’re next hiring, the ability to articulate that “why” will determine whether you’re in the market for farm labour, or good people. It will help your productivity, and profitability.
- Robbie Sefton has a dual investment in Rural Australia as a farmer and as managing director of communications company Seftons.