VIDEO: People skills key to economic success

Part 5: This series looks at how farmers, agriculture consultants and service providers are professionalizing agriculture by integrating the many skills required by today’s complex and challenging industry.
 You can follow the entire series here.

NIVERVILLE, Man. — Farmers still need the hard-nosed skills that they have always had, but softer people skills are also seeping in.

“We know that our successful accountants are ‘initiating fact-finders’ and ‘follow-throughs.’ If they don’t fit into that little range of initiating, they don’t even get an interview,” Mike Bossy, a southwestern Ontario business adviser, told the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors Nov. 19.

“It saves us time and we get better hires.”

Bossy showed CAFA members how he uses an assessment tool called Kolbe A to figure out not just who would be well suited for an accounting-based business such as his but also how to understand his clients’ family dynamics.

Farms and farm advisers have evolved quickly in the past two decades with thousands of farms becoming complex operations demanding skills far beyond what previous generations required.

They must now have crop production skills, machinery maintenance and management knowledge, financial analysis and business strategy abilities.

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However, a whole new set of unfamiliar skills are also being required: understanding, using and managing the humans in-volved in the farm.

That includes the operating farmer or farmers, the farm’s employees and the family that relies upon the farm.

Failing to properly manage those human assets can wreck an otherwise viable operation, experts say.

Previous generations of farmers “went to farm to avoid people. Now dealing with people is a key to success,” Brent VanKoughnet of Agri Skills in Carman, Man., said in an interview. “It’s a complete 180.”

Fewer farms can now rely upon just the main farmer or the farm-based family to operate. Employees are often involved, and they aren’t just labour-based hired hands like in the past.

Farmers also have to have more sophisticated people skills when dealing with suppliers, buyers and partners.

“There is a whole set of dynamic people skills … that you could avoid 20 years ago but if you think you can avoid those in the next 20, your business and your economic returns will suffer,” said Van Koughnet.

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Bossy recommended farmers use tools like the Kolbe A to better understand themselves, family members and employees.

It relies on an online questionnaire of 36 questions that, if answered truthfully, can sort somebody’s instincts into four basic areas.

Bossy said it helps farmers figure out how to best use employees and work with partners, but it also helps determine what sort of people to hire.

As well, it helps analyze how a farm is functioning.

Bossy said he likes to understand family members by their Kolbe A profiles when he is advising a farm on succession issues so that he know how to work with them and get them to work together.

The same goes for multi-person management of a farm. Understanding “what you will and will not do if you’re free to act” and “what you will do when faced with a problem if you’re free to act” can be vital in good decision-making.

Bossy said time and energy are the only two intellectual assets people have, so using them well is central to a high-functioning farm or business.

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  • ed

    With all due respect Mr. Van Koughnet, our forefathers did not go farming to avoid people. That is one of the most disreputable comments towards those who went before us that I have heard lately. They did nothing of the sort. There were neighbors every 1/2 mile on both sides of the road. Barns to build, thrashing gangs to organize, feed and house and share with our comrades in this big community building endevour called farming. They had UGG, Prairie Pools and Co-ops to build and vigilantly maintain and marketing agencies to construct for the greater good and protect. Cows to milk, chickens to feed, gardens to tend as well as sons and daughters to raise and teach the value of working together with friends, valued neighbors and the community at large. You are right about one thing. Farmers have done a complete 180 from the people skills that they naturally possessed years ago. The training that you encourage will never get farmers people skills back to any where near previous levels. If done by the wrong headed thinkers of recent time it may continue to lead us in the opposite direction to what we need to go. Success by taking out your own neighbor farmer at all cost, draining every pot hole and marsh, pushing every bush in an attempt to increase returns and just pretending that doesn’t matter, falls more under the definition of a divisional coping mechanism, and is not generally characterized as a set of “people skills”. You are way off base with this stuff.