As farmers, the animal’s environment is extremely important, but so is the environment in which the employees work in. As America’s pig farmers, your business strives with healthy pigs being cared for by happy people. Acquiring and, more importantly, retaining good people is becoming a serious problem in agriculture.
Kevin Wulf, Community Relations and Education at Riverview LLP, tells the Pork Management Conference that agriculture companies — especially those engaged in production — need to think differently about who the company is and what defines its culture.
His company, Riverview, takes a deliberate approach to company culture. Over 1,000 full-time employees and 200 seasonal, part-time employees work in beef, dairy, crop and construction segments of the company in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico and Arizona. Being geographically spread across the United States and incorporating foreign labor does create challenges. However, Riverview has evolved to create a company culture that empowers employees.
Here is what the pork industry can learn from Riverview when it comes to company culture, attracting employees and managing talent.
1. Employee-owned: One thing different for this agriculture production company is the ability for employees to take ownership in the company. Today, Riverview is 70% employee-owned. Wulf says it helps with employee retention and changes workers’ overall mindset. For those in company ownership and leadership, it is often difficult to get employees to think like owners. Today’s workers want to be part of something bigger; employee ownership programs allow this to happen. “It is really easy. Let them be an owner. If you are the owner, you are going to think like an owner. If you are not an owner, you are not going to think like an owner. That is the long and short of it,”Wulf simply states.
2. Community outreach: As the caretaker of Riverview’s community relations, Wulf understands that engaging in the community reaps many benefits including attracting good employees. Building on his experience as a teacher, Wulf orchestrates community outreach programs with four full-time people talking agriculture in classrooms from general discussion to hands-on science lessons. While it is a discussion on food, it also shows that livestock farmers are good people in their community.
3. Education first: The company hires individuals dedicated to educating employees. Riverview Academy is a structured educational program focusing on leadership, culture, management, safety and personal finances. If the manager sees an educational need, there is staff dedicated to filling the knowledge gap. Wulf says we must keep engaging our people. “We have to give them the tools. So, they can show us what they can do,” he stresses.
4. Embrace the millennials: Wulf says do not be afraid of the younger generations of workers. They bring important values and talent to the table. “Millennials are really awesome people,” says Wulf.
Riverview’s mantra is to pass as much knowledge and responsibility to younger people as possible. Currently, the chief executive officer is 33-years-old. Wulf says seasoned employees still sit on the board and serve as advisers, but the company wants as many 20-30-year-olds making the majority of the decisions. The reason is they are less risk-averse, understand millennials, embrace technology and are not stuck on this “how-we-always-did-it” thinking.
Riverview’s employee strategy is to hire younger people. Individuals who have been in the workforce for several years and actually experienced working in other cultures. Wulf says they love Riverview’s culture. Their response is “We love the opportunity. We love being able to make decisions and implement things without going through 15 layers of red tape and bureaucracies.”
5. Eat, sleep and breathe the company culture: The key to moving your company forward is understanding who you are as a company and what your culture is. Every company needs to identify the company’s personality, define its values and live by it from the top down. Riverview’s mantra is “Providing a culture of opportunity for passionate people and innovative ideas.”
No matter the employee, each person cannot only tell you Riverview’s motto, but also what the company wants to do, the five core values that support the vision and they will also be able to tell you what is expected of a Riverview employee. The company teaches it intentionally, and leadership walks the talk every day.
“If you want to retain people and you want to help them understand the vision, then don’t make them try to figure it out,” Wulf stresses. “Don’t make them guess what makes your company successful. Tell them here is the secret. Tell them here is what we have to do.”