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Time to Talk: Creating opportunity

Yes, you can talk your farm to a better bottom line

Since farming is all about productivity, most farmers would rather “do” than talk. The old cliché that time is money is never more true than when seed needs to get into the ground or livestock needs to get to market. And yet, some of the most successful farm businesses in the country are those that follow the lead of the management experts at Google, Amazon and Walmart by making time to invest in talk, even in their busiest seasons.

“The more you communicate, the better overall you’ll be,” says Casey Langbroek. “If there is no communication in a business, people won’t feel that they belong.”

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That, he says, can ultimately ruin any business.

Langbroek should know. As the founder of Catapult Business Coaching and the founder and senior partner at LLT LLP, a large accounting firm in Chilliwack B.C., Langbroek works directly with farmers and farm businesses to improve their management and bottom lines. He’s worked with some of B.C.’s most successful farm businesses; he’s also worked with some farm businesses that are barely hanging on.

Based on 30+ years of consulting to farmers, he knows there’s exactly one way to build the kind of team that will ultimately translate into financial success: team meetings. A whole lot of them. Annual team meetings. Quarterly team meetings. Monthly team meetings that include analysis of updated financial statements. Weekly team meetings and, yes, though it’s hard to swallow, daily team meetings.

Keep reading! While you might be tempted to throw up your hands at advice that can sound impossible, remember that Langbroek is, first and foremost, an accountant. If he tells you that meetings have value, you better believe he means dollars in your pocket.

“Meetings — really short but every single day, are an absolute necessity in a high-performing team. All the highest-performing businesses do this in one form or another,” he says.

If you are saying, “Yes, but… ,” Langbroek cautions that he’s already heard every excuse in the book from people who think that they shouldn’t have to or who just can’t manage regular team meetings.

“We don’t have time.”

He’s heard that one a hundred times, he says.

“We have people that come in at all different times of year or all different times of day.”

“Nope,” he says, “they can still make it work.”

“Our business is different; it would never work.”

“Really?” he says. “I’d say it’s actually not so different as you think. Whether you’re looking at a car dealership or an accounting firm or a farm business, they all share the same end goal: they want to make money. If you want to make money, you need to build a good team. And this is the way to do it.”

Making time for regular meetings might sound like a cumbersome, time-sucking expensive process. “But if you bring everything back to core values and purpose and strategy, you’ll find decisions are made much, much more quickly,” he says.

And, having the team onside and pulling in the same direction streamlines processes, maximizes employee engagement, minimizes “oops” and overlaps, and ultimately helps a business generate a lot more money.

If your farm business consists of just a couple of family members, formal meetings might feel strange, especially since you likely to talk across the dinner table each day. Even in this case, says Langbroek, formalizing your business conversations just slightly and making an articulated (even a written) commitment to discuss all priority issues can make a bottom-line difference to your business.

“It’s not enough for a father to say to a son, ‘We’re doing fine.’ That’s not going to generate understanding or commitment,” he says. “Big or small, your business will be stronger the more you can communicate.”

The meetings don’t have to be long. In fact, they shouldn’t be long. Langbroek recommends that daily meetings last exactly seven minutes: no more, no less.

How does you do a seven-minute meeting?

“Don’t let anyone sit down,” he says. Then, build every meeting around the same three key components:

Goal setting: Set/communicate goals at every meeting so that every member of the team can develop a crystal clear concept of what success looks like and how to get there. The goals should be both small (what are we doing this week) and large (what are we aiming for in the long haul).

Core values: Articulate the values that shape the business so that every member of the team understands and aligns with the priorities of the company. A business with a core value of community commitment will have very different goals and very different measures of success than a business that values maximizing revenue, for example.

Celebration: Invest time every meeting to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate — to inject joy into the workplace. Help every member of the team identify their role in team success, and provide a simple, incredibly effective, free way to build employee morale. Langbroek calls the celebration component of meetings the “wins and brags.” As he explains, a win is something an individual is proud of that they want to share with the group; a brag is an acknowledgement of something that another team-member has done or achieved. Both wins and brags should be tied back to the core values of the business.

“Can you imagine what a difference it makes when a leader at a morning huddle brags about an employee, specifically naming them and telling the whole group about what they’ve done? It’s a huge buildup for the individual but also the whole team,” he says.

Langbroek admits most farm managers aren’t excited when he recommends such frequent meetings. What would he tell a farm manager who tries to argue the value of investing in meetings?

“I would tell them that if they want to be successful, they don’t have a choice. In my opinion, it’s vital. I’d say: ‘Welcome to the life of business. Welcome to the life of teamwork.’”

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