Crafting culture: Joy, strengths and professional development

Research indicates that annual turnover within the industry is as high as 39%.

May 24, 2023

5 Min Read
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National Pork Board

As pork's labor shortage continues, the question of how to build effective teams from prospective candidates and those who have remained in the industry does too. As a leader in times of change, how can producers support their employees and themselves professionally to produce the best results? Tomer Yogev, long-time entrepreneur and coach for innovators across the country, speaks on the value of joy and quality leadership in pork’s workforce.

Leading by example
The first thing that Yogev emphasizes in his work is that leaders must be aware of who they are before they can expect to formulate a reasonable, accurate vision for their company's culture and the values of teams within that culture. He lists the difference between massive companies such as Amazon and Google as an example. Google, known for having visible and luxurious employee benefits, banks on workers who want an interactive, high-energy, "fun" work environment. Amazon, on the other hand, is not known for that level of extravagance; Jeff Bezos is not known for being an overly friendly CEO. Nevertheless, it remains a successful company, in part because it follows its leader's natural inclinations toward a more traditional work environment and doesn't try to be something it’s not.

Therefore, when it comes to designing the culture of a company or production facility, Yogev encourages entrepreneurs to start with introspection. Leaders must be able to understand themselves as individuals so that they can express that knowledge to their team, which is then able to know the reasoning behind its goals, not to mention how it fits into the company as a whole. As stressed by Matthew Rooda, SwineTech, Inc. CEO and Popular Pig host, "That's all levels of leadership, right? Even if you only have two people who you're in charge of, they need to know who your authentic self is and why so they can . . . feel comfortable working around you."

Yogev further adds that companies will have an easier time honoring those core values the earlier they start the process of self-reflection. "Leadership and culture are about uncovering what's already there. It's a matter of introspection into who you are as a leader, what you do and when you operate best, getting clear on those themes, and then developing culture around that, which is why it's so important to do it as early on as you possibly can, when you don't have to incorporate 20, 50, 100 other people's concepts of what work, leadership and [an] organization should be. It can be about you, and then you can build an organization around that."

Alongside being true to one's own leadership style and personality, Yogev also emphasizes focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses. If an entrepreneur, for example, is more introverted, rather than trying to create goals and a workspace that align with a more extroverted personality in an attempt to "fix" that, they should focus on what they're already talented at (e.g. listening to feedback, excellent observation skills). In this way, an innovator can design their workspace to play on their strengths instead of using a deficit-oriented model, where development requires more work for less genuine results.

Sourcing strength from joy
This idea of being authentic as a leader in the workplace sounds good, but what practical advice does Yogev have for accomplishing the level of self-awareness that he promotes? His advice for individual leaders is fairly straightforward: to get a pencil and paper and write down 10 of the best moments of their lives. These "moments" can be instantaneous, or they can be periods of time. The objective is to see the places in a leader's life where they have thrived and then begin to analyze those moments for patterns.

What kind of interactions spark joy? With who? Where are the places where one's personality made the most positive impact?  The themes that emerge from this activity can give a person an idea of where their priorities as a leader should lie.

More than that, however, in a group setting or a team meeting that's trying to determine the standard for collaboration, Yogev recommends altering the activity for one's professional life. Team, what were the 10 best moments for us? Or can everyone offer one moment that was a bright spot for you? Again, looking at what themes emerge can illuminate group strengths and how it best operates, and Yogev mentions that these themes don't have to be present in every answer. If they are, that's obviously indicative of the group's highest priorities, but a simple majority in responses can still be enough to guide group norms moving forward.

The point of these activities is, ultimately, to find a mode of operation that is enjoyable for as many employees as possible, especially with the ongoing labor shortage in pork. In fact, research from National Hog Farmer indicates that annual turnover within the industry is as high as 39%. Costs associated with turnover can be difficult to calculate given that doing so requires factoring in costs from hiring, training, interruptions in employee and animal productivity, and shifts of employee responsibilities. Estimates of overall turnover costs per worker range from 30-150% percent of the employee's salary, but regardless of the severity of the issue, turnover undeniably cuts into a facility's profits. By attracting newcomers and keeping the employees that facilities already have satisfied in their roles, then, creating clearly-defined cultures that allow employees to mesh well with their teams helps to avoid those turnover costs that have become so prevalent.

To this end, Rooda offers an example he knows of a farmer who had a team consistently coming in an hour early to sit and talk in the employee break room before working their eight hours. When the farmer tried to cut that socializing time back, the productivity of the team tanked, as did its morale. When reinstated, productivity rose again—creating a team with efforts ranking in the top 20th percentile of the industry.

The bottom line is that when employees are happy and supported in their work, the numbers that managers are seeking appear organically. Despite the reputation terms like "authenticity" can have as corporate fluff, it's worth the effort from entrepreneurs and the people they manage to be aware of one's strengths and be mindful of highlighting them. A self-aware workforce chooses the right culture and clients and, ultimately, finds the most success.

For more information on this topic, listen to Tomer Yogev's full statement on Popular Pig: The Role of Joy and Strengths in Company Culture.

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