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Farm CEO: Culture matters

Are you paying attention to the culture of your farm or farm business?

Why should we care about the culture of our business? Culture captures the essence of what makes a business tick, yet it is poorly understood.

Culture has reached cliché status as a management concept, and that’s regrettable because understanding what culture really is, its connection to leadership, how it is created and how it has an impact on business performance are all essential to successfully leadership at an executive level.

It’s why I want to make a case for paying attention to the culture of your farm or ag business.

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Culture is the sum of the collective values, beliefs and behaviours of an organization. It’s the reason — often unspoken — why the group behaves the way it does to achieve what matters to it.

Culture includes the stories we tell and the words we use to tell them, and it’s what creates your farm’s cultural “norm,” or what could be described as, “how we roll around here.”

There’s a lot to this, though, so let’s break it down further.

We can’t see the beliefs, assumptions and values that create the culture that we do see. They are unobservable and often unknown, and the people who hold these beliefs, assumptions and values are often unaware that they hold them. That’s psychology.

This hidden world inside each individual is unique, yet it also connects group members to each other through their shared everyday experience working in that business. It becomes a kind of collective cognitive and emotional architecture, and it produces the culture we see.

Importantly, this is why culture and motivation are inextricably linked. Culture is how our values drive our action. It is how we satisfy our needs, which is really another way of saying what we value.

In short, if the culture meets the needs of its people, they will be motivated.

I say all this to emphasize how deep the roots of culture go. It is why the legendary leadership thought leader, Peter Drucker, was quoted as saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

It’s why you can take the most rational, evidence-based, best-practice laden, consultant-facilitated plan for moving a business forward to the next level or generation, and watch it stall when hitched to an under-developed business culture.

So let’s picture an owner who because of their position is the de facto leader of a farm. What if they have unconscious beliefs about staying safe by avoiding conflict? This creates a cultural norm of unaccountability. It encourages the group to avoid conversations of consequence, which inevitably leads to poor ethics and low standards.

On the surface, the leader may talk about the values of family harmony, but underneath the culture is all about the fear of being transparent. This culture stifles trust which impairs strategic thinking, action, business performance and ultimately survival.

Similarly, what kind of culture can we expect with a leader who continually criticizes, blames, and shames but who won’t delegate basic decisions? If you don’t provide a culture where people feel safe and respected, the only way they can satisfy their need for feeling those things is by being quiet, invisible or leaving altogether.

A business whose culture doesn’t support the values of its employees will see lower performance and higher turnover.

Leader effectiveness is determined by the values and beliefs of the leader. Those values, as experienced by those they lead, influence their motivation.

This is why no business performs above the effectiveness of its leadership in the long term. It’s why leaders influence culture and are ultimately responsible for it, and why culture matters.

Take a moment and imagine a culture whose source code is based on positive values and beliefs around learning, compassion and innovation. Sit with it. Did you feel the difference? Leader effectiveness can be developed to shape a culture for optimum business results, professional success and the well-being of everyone. Don’t settle.

Kelly Dobson [email protected] is chief leadership officer of LeaderShift Inc., powering the National Farm Leadership Program initiated by Farm Management Canada for farmers and farm advisors in January 2020.

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