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.
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.
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.