We’ve met them all before. In fact, many Canadian farmers don’t even have to drive down the lane to meet them all.
Australian agronomist Cam Nicholson says farmers can be divided into four basic types:
- Dependables are the reliable types who defend the status quo.
- Doers work fast but don’t always finish every job.
- Pioneers quickly adopt new technologies and take risks.
- Team builders farm relationally and intergenerationally with an eye to environmental impacts.
“About 80 per cent of farmers fall into the first two categories with about 55 per cent being dependables and 25 per cent being doers,” Nicholson told Australia’s FarmOnline in an interview last year.
His system is based on research conducted by Queensland dairy farmer and psychologist Rod Strahan.
Knowing about basic personality types can help farmers in all aspects of farm management, says Nicholson. The obvious fit is when making hiring decisions, but knowing about personality types also helps when working with all sorts of team members, including agronomists and farm advisors.
“I had a farmer client, a ‘doer,’ who used to employ other doers because they seemed to hit it off,” says Nicholson. “But (in one case) he had to sack an employee because he rushed a spraying job and mucked up the crop. He’d made a few mistakes because of not paying attention to detail. So we employed a more detail-oriented person.
“At first the farmer said he was too slow to do things — but he did everything perfectly, which avoided similar disasters the previous employee had created. The farmer said that once he understood this difference, he was less critical of the new worker and jobs got done better.”
Personality testing in farm businesses
Testing suites like True Colors, Myers-Briggs, PSI, Kolbe Index and the Enneagram are widely used by farm advisors in Canada.
“Personality testing can be an incredibly valuable tool for the farm,” says Heather Watson, executive director of Farm Management Canada. “Recognizing (personality) differences can help you build a team that harnesses everyone’s strengths where these differences are aligned to complement one another.”
Personality testing typically focuses on people’s natural reactions and preferences, especially those that become prominent during times of stress and uncertainty, says Watson, and it can be especially valuable in helping facilitate major farm management decisions such as succession planning.
It’s a corporate tool, in other words, that has as much purchase in the farm boardroom as in any other.
But are farmers and farm business owners resistant to the idea of getting typecasted into little boxes?
Most aren’t, say farm advisors, because while personality testing does perform assessments and assign “types,” it isn’t evaluative.
Mike Bossy is a partner in the Ontario CPA firm Bossy Nagy Group. He says once the science behind personality testing is explained to farm clients, they’re usually open to it.
Bossy uses the Kolbe system, a “conative” assessment that assesses individuals’ strengths and talents. Test-takers are asked to identify their instinctive responses to a range of scenarios. Based on their answers, they are given scores out of 10 on four modes of action: fact-finding, follow-through, quick start, and implementer.
“There’s no bad score — all scores are equally valuable,” says Bossy.
The Kolbe index was created by Kathy Kolbe, a Phoenix entrepreneur. “She has proof that once you’re born, your instincts are locked down,” says Bossy. It’s why most people who retake the test, even many years later, have high repeatability scores.
“I use this for farm business and on the farm,” Bossy says. “We know the instincts a person needs to fulfill a certain job.
“Let’s take a salesperson in agri-services. They have to know their products. In a typical sales function, I’d be looking for someone who is initiating and fact-finding,” says Bossy. “Before they get an interview we have them do the index. If their index doesn’t fit for fact-finder follow-through, we stop the process.”
Kelly Dobson is a coach for LeaderShift, which runs Farm Management Canada’s National Farm Leadership Program. He says personality testing works best when it’s offered in the broader context of leadership training and when it uses a leader assessment tool as part of the program.
The National Farm Leadership Program is aimed at everyone in the agriculture industry and includes individual and group coaching over a period of months.
“Most people who come into the program are looking to build personal capacity,” says Dobson. “They’re successful in terms of their businesses, but they’re also coming up to some limit of their emotional, physical or relational abilities. We use our assessment to identify areas for focused development.
“Leader effectiveness is going to be as critical to farm success going forward as financial literacy was in the ’80s and ’90s. The bottleneck is not technology and innovation — it’s the people themselves.”
People are complex emotional beings, and it isn’t always possible — or necessary — to take emotion out of decision-making. One goal of Dobson’s program is to offer farmers ways to recognize their emotional state and confront others without conflict.
Personality testing isn’t a regulated industry. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work and can’t be effective.
“Don’t bet the farm on it,” he says. “If it provides insight, that’s awesome, but let’s use it to foster growth.”