Tools for Training and Keeping Good Employees Increasingly Important in Agribusiness

A few months ago, Matt Reese of Ohio’s Country Journal reached out to Harvest Land asking if we have any tools for training and keeping good employees, as this topic has been increasingly important in agribusiness. We decided to share the details and success of our ACE program with Matt and Ohio’s Country Journal. This week, we share with you the full article Matt wrote:

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Tools for training and keeping good employees increasingly important in agribusiness

By Matt Reese

It is not an uncommon story. A young employee starts at the lowest levels of a company, works in every facet of the business and one day ends up running it.

“Our CEO is in his early 40s. He hired on at a local ag center as an applicator, which is a technical job driving big machines. He was willing to do anything. He would tie feed sacks at the mill, sweep shop floors, check out customers at the counter — that man now is our CEO,” said Lindsay Sankey, communications manager for Harvest Land Cooperative with locations in western Ohio and Indiana. “He has worked in every department of our business. He is a prime example that if you are willing to learn and take on responsibility, there is so much opportunity in a farmer owned cooperative. We have several examples of this. He started on the lowest rung and now he is leading the cooperative.”

Unfortunately, for a number of different reasons, this type of ground up experience and long-term company loyalty seems to be less common in the modern pool of employees. Harvest Land Cooperative recognizes the value of this type of experience for young potential leaders and has taken extensive steps to recreate it as a way to groom tomorrow’s leaders.

“About 5 years ago we started talking about succession in the cooperative system. Harvest Land has about 300 full time employees and about a third of them will retire in the next decade. We recognized the need to fill our bench, you might say, with people who are qualified to be a valuable leader in our business. As we prepare for future demand of an evolving agricultural climate, we also must provide our emerging front runners with a broad perspective of what our cooperative does,” Sankey said. “That gave us the idea for our Accelerated Career Excellence (ACE) Program. We invite people to apply for this program, right out of college or trade school, maybe someone who is interested in working for Harvest Land, but they might not know exactly where they could fit. This is a great program because it allows them to see all facets of our business in 12 months and determine what areas suit them and how they suit our system the best.”

The paid position through the ACE Program sets the stage for future leaders by teaching them about Harvest Land from the ground up.

“They go on a tour of our co-op. They work in the agronomy department, they work in the energy department that includes fuels, home heat and propane, they have to dive deep into our seed business, and then they go through training on the importance of organization and prioritization skills. They go through a whole session on personality testing and how to understand and work with multiple types of people. They also are required to dive deep into the financial understanding of the cooperative system and specifically Harvest Land’s balance sheet. We give assigned reading to them and we bring in a professor from Purdue on communication skills and how to work with customers, growers and the community. As they go through this they are showing up every day at a local location or our headquarters,” Sankey said. “We started this in 2016 and we have had really good success. We had a young man come out of the casket industry, and he applied for a job at Harvest Land. He had grown up on a small farm in Indiana but had not been a part of that farm in a decade. He is about to take over our grain marketing department in September. He has excelled so much. He showed up. He was willing to learn. He really shined in grain marketing and when our grain marketing manager retires, this young man will take over the department. Every one of our candidates has accepted full time positions. They are doing cool things for the co-op and are proving their leadership abilities. We recognize we are building strength on our bench at Harvest Land.”

 

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Kyle Baumer is one of many success stories through Harvest Land’s ACE Program.

ACE offers a chance for young leaders to discover where they may fit, but it also provides a chance for management to learn about the upcoming talent.

 

“The managers supervise, evaluate and enrich the experience for these individuals so they get a boots on the ground look at Harvest Land. Our managers are always looking for good help and their feedback is extremely valuable and candid. We know when things are going well or when an ACE candidate is not so interested in that area,” Sankey said. “ACE is managed by our HR department and it is a large part of what they do. From the very beginning when they interview someone, this is in the back of their mind. Because this is a 12-month program and it is cyclical, they are constantly having to manage how long someone has been in the department, where they are now, and who they have worked with. It is a lot of work. We have three HR individuals on our team and they do a great job of facilitating the ACE Program.

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“When you recognize the needs of running a business, you know you are going to have to put in some work to attract young talent. Every ounce of effort put into this will pay us back if we can create a good culture and hire these employees that will stick with Harvest Land.”

Good, long-term employees are shaped by their work experiences, but they also respond to a workplace culture including positive core values. Emphasizing and instilling those values with employees is the reason behind the IREP program at A&L Great Lakes Laboratoriesbased in Ft. Wayne, Ind.

“A couple years ago we had a bit of an identity crisis. We needed to distinguish ourselves in the marketplace. So for about 9 months, we worked on identifying what we really stood for as a company,” said Jamie Bultemeier, agronomist and corporate sales director for A&L Great Lakes Laboratories. “We identified our core values are doing the right things with integrity when no one is looking. We want to do things right the first time every time. We want to be easy to work with. When the customers are looking for solutions, we want to solve those problems. And, we want to be partners with our customers. If their business grows, our business grows and we can build loyalty with our customers that way. A group of employees came up with IREP: Integrity, Right, Easy, Partnership as a way to remember them. That has stuck and become a foundation for what we do.”

IREP is focused inward.

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If employees decide to embrace the principles of IREP at A&L Great Lakes Laboratories they get to add their name to the wall.

 

“Our outward appearance and marketing is based on these four core values too, but this is about getting employees to adopt the same internal branding that we are pushing outward. And when someone calls the office, no matter who they talk to, we want these core values to exude from the conversations. We want a consistent message of what A&L Great Lakes stands for. IREP has been a way to bring this into an easy to understand concept that people can buy into,” he said. “When you can articulate your core values, it opens doors for sales and hiring new talent. It really clarifies our value messages to people. When we make big decisions, does it stand on our core values? If it doesn’t, we don’t do it. It has made the decision making process easier too.”

From the beginning, new employees are introduced to the IREP concept. It is featured on a plaque in the office lobby, but more importantly it is emphasized on a wall in the back of the office for employees to sign if they agree with those principles.

“We are hoping we can build an emotional tie to the company. We rely heavily on seasonal employees and when we can get an employee to return it really helps. When they come back we do not have to retrain them and they understand how things work. We hope to bring those part timers back year after year,” Bultemeier said. “We have always had a small group of seasonals who return, but trying to get them to return has gotten more difficult. Now we are getting to the point where those people are developing a personal tie to the company and become something more than just a seasonal employee. That makes them more likely to come back each year.”

Because it was developed from the inside out, IREP has been very effective.

“IREP has been around for about a year and a half. When we started going through this branding process, the company morale took a little bit of a dive. It created some open conversations that maybe weren’t the most fun to be a part of. We have really since then seen a real change in morale as we have brought some of these things out and company morale has really gone up dramatically. Employees are taking ownership in this. We are also now trying to catch people following the IREP values and highlighting it. We encourage it and celebrate it when it occurs,” Bultemeier said. “It doesn’t matter the size of your business or what it is, that unified belief or value set is important. It is tough if those values are only in your marketing. If it doesn’t resonate through the employees of the company, it is lost. Now we hear from our customers using the words directly out of IREP. That is huge when we see that manifesting itself in our customer base. That is not something you can fake or get in advertising. This is deeper than a marketing program. This started out as a management need. It was a very methodical business oriented decision to do it. When the employees took ownership of this, it took on a life of its own.”

 

This is the third of a series of five stories in cooperation with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association highlighting human resource management solutions in Ohio agribusinesses.

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We apprecaite Matt reaching out to Harvest Land. You can read the full article printed in the recent edition, or online here.

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Salute to Service Winner Announced

In September we invited you to send us stories of the positive encounters or experiences you have with Harvest Land employees for our Salute to Service program. We asked you to share with us the instance of an employee going above and beyond, someone handling a difficult assignment with professionalism or an employee representing Harvest Land in an oustanding way.

Ask and you shall receive, indeed.

We received 78 nominations from Harvest Land customers and employees nominating their peers.  This was an amazing response to a simple ask! But it sure made our job difficult. We closed nominations on November 8 and then asked our employee base to read through all nominations and choose their top three choices to win the 2017 Salute to Service Award.

At our cooperative Christmas party on December 1 the winner was announced. Today we want to share with you the winner:

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The nomination, written and submitted by Harvest Land HR Manager, Luann Nichol:

Scott,

I know you challenged the employee group to tell you a story of a co-worker going above and beyond for a customer or of someone handling a difficult assignment or representing Harvest Land in a great way.

I would like to take a few minutes to talk about Kim Buttery.  Kim is an employee going above and beyond to represent Harvest Land in a great way.  Nearly one year ago, Kim was given the most devastating news any human being can be given.  She was told she had cancer.  I, having four older siblings that have battled cancer with one sibling losing his battle, understand the “mountain” Kim was going to have to climb and the battle she would be fighting over the next year and beyond.

Now a year later, Kim has completed her round of intense chemotherapy treatments and is finishing up her radiation treatments.  Over the course of this past year, Kim has managed to utilize minimal sick time and vacation time.  There were days Kim could have chosen to curl up in her blanket in bed and stay home and rightfully so.  There were days she came in looking wary and tired, feeling sick, but she never complained or wanted anyone to feel sorry for her.  She sat at her desk and worked diligently, answered phones, assisted customers and provided leadership for her team.  Kim has been an inspiration to her family, her church family, her staff, her co-workers not only in Richmond but within all of Harvest Land’s business divisions and anyone in the community who knows her. 

As the H.R. Manager at Harvest Land, Kim is the definition of a dedicated employee with a work ethic like none other.  Kim cares about her staff, her fellow co-workers and the member customers of Harvest Land.  Kim continues to battle this disease with dignity, grace and courage.  The road ahead is still long and Kim knows that but just as she has over this last year, she will continue to trek ahead one step at a time until she is over that mountain.  May God continue to bless Kim and her family as he has over this last year.  He has certainly blessed Harvest Land and its members with Kim’s presence over the last forty one years.  Thank you.

Luann Nichol

H.R. Manager  

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Kim received greater than 37% of the total votes from our employees.

Congratulations, Kim!

We’re proud to call you a colleague and friend to many. 

Thank you for every single person (all 78 of you!) who contributed to this contest. The entries absolutely impressed us and frankly, made us quite proud to work at Harvest Land.

So much good came from one simple request for a story.

In the months ahead, we’ll be highlighting the other outstanding submissions from customers and employees in an effort to give you a better look at the people behind your local farmer-owned cooperative.

 

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Salute to Service

With more than fifty locations, it can be difficult to hear about all the great things happening within our cooperative, thanks in large part to our team of dedicated employees. As of late, we’ve had several members contact us regarding outstanding customer service from Harvest Land employees.

We appreciate this candid feedback from our members, and we want to keep it going. 

We’d like to invite you to participate in our Salute to Service program, which will recognize employees for a job well done.

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You can participate by sending us stories of the positive encounters or experiences you have with Harvest Land employees.

Share with us the instance of an employee going above and beyond, someone handling a difficult assignment with professionalism or an employee representing Harvest Land in an oustanding way.

We invite you to tell us

why an employee deserves to be

commended on a job well done.

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In late fall, we’ll present the top Salute to Service entries to our employee base and ask them to vote for the best example of a Harvest Land employee exceeding expectations. The winner – as chosen by their peers – will be rewarded with a $1,000 cash prize and 2 vacation days. For the person that submits the winning entry? Well, they’ll walk away with $250.

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Keep a watchful eye this harvest season as the weather cools and don’t hesitate to contact us with your story/stories for Salute to Service.

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You can submit entries by emailing  nominations@harvestlandcoop.com or contact our President/CEO, Scott Logue at 765.962.1527.

Deadline to submit entries is November 8, 2017 at 5:00 PM.

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We look forward to hearing about all the great things our hard-working employees do to cultivate positivity in communities and keep our cooperative business strong for the next generation.

 

 

 

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An Investment in West Milton, Ohio

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On August 1 Harvest Land purchased Community Oil Station, located at 650 S Miami St. West Milton, Ohio.  Community Oil Station has been in operation since 1923 and was previously owned primarily by family. Since being purchased by Harvest Land, it is now owned by our 5,400 farmer-members.

We are proud that the Wilson family would consider our business values and embedded community spirit similar to theirs, creating a smooth transition of ownership. Ownership of the business may have changed, but the quality of service will not. Joe Wilson and Steve Pour joined the Harvest Land team and will continue to service the area they call home.

Though the name of the business is Community Oil Station, Harvest Land did not purchase the physical station, but rather the fuel gallons. We also made a substantial investment into the West Milton community and its people, which we were reminded of earlier this week.

Our CEO received a hand written letter from a farmer who has done business with Community Oil for over 50 years. They described the outstanding level of service received by Community Oil and the relationship of trust built over the decades.

Take a look:

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“If your people is like the family

Joe, Steve & Kathy,

you will be fine with me.”

We can’t explain how much we appreciated this note from someone we’ve not yet met. Their confidence in our ability to keep the family spirit of Community Oil burning bright is not taken lightly.

The purchase of this business doesn’t just represent growth of our farmer-owned cooperative. It also signifies an investment in the West Milton community and a commitment of value to the families which we will serve.

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Be Still

After 27 inches of rain in the last 31 days for some parts of our trade territory, there is nothing like waking up to this forecast earlier this week:

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As we recover from another shower, we wanted to share with you a video from one of our customers, Alan Bays.

Four generations of Bays have used Harvest Land’s service and products, forming a business relationship that spans fifty years. Excellent reliability with fuels, competitive pricing, available purchasing options and a knowledgeable team are all qualities on which the Bays family relies on Harvest Land.

If the name sounds familiar, it should. The Bays were the cover family of our 2012 Annual Report.

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Justin Bays, Brian Bays,  Elle Contos, Bennett Contos and Sarah Contos

Brian Bays once said of the family’s history with Harvest Land:

“With Harvest Land we’ve sustained a very long-term, business relationship that has provided quality supplies and price-competitive opportunities. We’ve consistently had good relationships with Harvest Land employees, and they always strive to provide solutions for our operation.”  -Brian Bays

The Lapel area, where the Bays farm, has gotten the brunt of the 2017 torrential rains. It seems that if a shower hits Indiana, it’s sure to hit their farm.

But, there is still hope.

We invite you to take a look at this inspiring video from Alan, brother of Brian:

We are so proud to be a small part of Bays’ family operation.

 

 

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To the Class of 2017

The open houses are winding down, senior awards programs are over and the lockers have been officially emptied out.

Another school year is over.

This spring we awarded thirteen outstanding high school seniors with a $1,000 scholarship to aid in their college expenses. These very deserving students are pursuing post-high school agricultural degrees. They are, in fact, the future of agriculture. And a bright future, it is: Agricultural engineers, economists and communicators, veterinarians,  diesel technicians, plant geneticists and more….the list of dream jobs coming out of this bunch is very promising. We also recognize employees’ children who graduated this spring and are pursuing post-high school education. From Indianapolis east to Dayton and Ft. Wayne south to Cincinnati, students from all over Harvest Land’s trade market are chosen annually.

Congratulations to our 2017 recipients:

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You have a lot of change ahead of you! New classes, courses, instructors, living spaces, friends, supper spots, responsibilities and choices. If we could offer you just one piece of advice, it would be this:

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You are about to enter a new world that is filled with daily choices that will set you on the path towards a future with promise. We hope that each day, while you recognize opportunities to blaze your own trail, you’ll be true to yourself.

Have confidence in yourself and who you are. Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t forget where you came from or how you were raised. Choose your words words wisely. Spend your time with intent. Do the things that matter to you. Surround yourself with people that strengthen you. Trust your gut. Be true to yourself.

We wish every graduate of the class of 2017
the absolute best as they leave high school and enter
college, trade school or the work force.
Your story is just beginning!

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Faith & Farming

Faith and Farming: they go hand and hand:

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Some days, doesn’t it feel as though it began raining on Easter and hasn’t quit? While the naive mind might like to believe that farmers across the corn belt are putting in ponds as part of some water retention conservation project, you and I both know that just isn’t the case. You can drive through the countryside and see standing water in every direction.

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Rather than driving around the township with their best co-pilot and a steady dose of optimism, checking growth in the warm May sunshine, most growers in our area are riding around with the insurance adjuster looking at corn that has already been replanted or will be.

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Writer Lisa TerKeurst once wrote that “The space between our expectations and our reality is a fertile field. And often it’s a place where disappointment grows.” How true that is, and what fitting words when thinking of our 2017 planting season. Even when the field is flooded, the disappointment is able to grow within the rows.  I heard one farmer say that he didn’t even want to leave the house in the morning because he knew disappointment would greet his first step out the door.

You can’t blame him; it’s been a soggy and frustrating spring.

But you can’t lose faith, either.

I’ve often heard that God gives the toughest battles to His strongest soldiers but I believe there is more to that; although those in agriculture are certainly of resilient stock! I think God gives these times of disappointment to the ones who can be of example on how to stay the course amidst the frustration. He uses them as an example to others.

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I don’t know a farmer who plans on not planting in 2017 because of the amount of rain and cold air we’ve endured. I don’t know a farmer who has decided to sit this year out of farming. I don’t know a farmer who intends on selling farm because of 8 inches of rain.

The farmers we know are changing their course of action, recalculating their assumptions and adapting to the situation. The farmers we know are waiting it out and attending 6th grade graduations and dance recitals in the mean time. The farmers we know are trying really hard to exercise the patience their parents worked to instill in them.

Because the farmers we know
learned a long time ago that
faith and farming go hand and hand.

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Ye of Little Praise

 

There are a lot of variables in businesses such as our’s. We have many different divisions, span hundreds of miles, employ 300+ people, each with different skill sets and responsibilities, and work daily among thousands of moving parts. Oh, and we’re usually running short on time, too.

In our nearly 100 years of business we’ve learned from time to time that if you’re not careful and attentive to details, things can go awry quickly. It is usually in those rare instances that we hear from our farmer-members, as we should. We appreciate the feedback; it makes us better.

Farmers may be considered “ye of little praise” (not to be confused with ye of little faith; there is no greater demonstration of faith than a man planting seeds in a field; but perhaps that is a blog for another week) because they just weren’t brought up that way. In agriculture there are very few pats on the back, few words of encouragement and absolutely no participation trophies. Often the “praise” received comes in the form of a grain check or a milk check, and it’s only then that you know that you’re doing something right.

Though every once in a great while, farmers send written words of encouragement or praise. And those are the ones that you hang onto.

Our CEO received a personally addressed letter on this desk back in February. Of course, though he might be considered one of those ye of little praise, he appreciated the words tremendously and hung on to the note of praise. Fast forward more than two months later and he thought it appropriate to share.



Dear Scott, 

We intended to send you this note at the end of harvest last fall, and here it is the middle of February. 

We were very pleased with the fertilizer application and custom spraying that the College Corner branch provided during the 2016 growing season. It was obvious that Dave Norris and the operators of the sprayers and spreaders were focused on doing a good job instead of covering the most acres in the least amount of time. Bill Curry (who did most of the harvesting) said, “You can tell they took extra care to spray the perimeters of all the fields and were careful of the waterways, too.”

So, we just wanted to let yo know we appreciated their good work and we look forward to their help in the fast approaching growing season. 

Sincerely, 

It was signed by the land owner and the farmer. 

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Despite what the evening news, price at the pump or markets tell you, there is a lot of good going on around us. There are people doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

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Photo by applicator Dave Barbee at our Lena Ag Center

This week we encourage you to refrain from being “ye of little praise” and offer encouragement or sincere thanks to someone around you who deserves it.

Your words may be brief but their impact could be enduring.

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