As consolidation continues all around us, the importance of an intentional corporate culture has never been more real in agriculture.
The Ag industry today is one fraught with mergers and acquisitions. Given our wide portfolio of Ag clients, Think Shift is in a unique position to observe the inner workings and outcomes caused and created by consolidation. Although every situation is both complex and unique, there are similarities and patterns that emerge.
Let’s take the example of two companies merging together to form a new brand in the marketplace.
Typically, when two companies become one, it is a transition not championed by the broader employee base. Rather, it is led by a few senior individuals and everyone else is simply asked to get on board.
This results in two camps of employees. The ones who take a positive approach and champion the new brand, and the ones who cling to the former company’s way of doing things. For example, Jim the Agronomist might still show up to the office (and even go on customer calls) wearing a hat that represents the former brand from which he came. For Jim, it is a matter of principle and pride.
Perhaps nobody has given him a good enough emotional reason to change yet.
As Jim is not the only one in this camp, deeper problems start to emerge. People start to leave. Word gets out that the culture is not very good. Recruitment becomes more difficult. And we start seeing an impact on sales, revenue and the bottom line.
What We Are Seeing
For decades, Ag companies were known for having great people. Genuine, knowledgeable, salt of the earth people. The culture was what it was; something that grew up organically, never really requiring any formal attention.
But the next big shift in Ag is already upon us; one spawned from consolidation where companies are now realizing that an intentional culture is crucial to their continued success in a changing world.
We are now seeing the first wave of companies waking up to this reality, engaging consultants and agencies to formalize their cultures and develop systems to make them real. To be clear – an intentional culture is not a list of core values on a poster in the office kitchen. It is a living, breathing “thing” that you must nurture and continue to develop over time.
Let’s discuss the three stages of cultural change: Wake Up, Get Intentional, Walk it Out.
Step 1: Wake Up
The unfortunate reality is this: cultural problems don’t usually become visible or apparent until they have gotten quite bad. We see past employees complaining on Glassdoor or hear internal murmurs that work there way up through management.
The first step is to wake up. The CEO and senior leaders of the company need to acknowledge the importance of culture and decide to become intentional about it. Preferably, this should occur before any major problems emerge – but any time is a good time to get intentional about culture.
Step 2: Get Intentional
It is time to define and implement an intentional culture. One that will nurture and attract the right people and keep your employees engaged and motivated. Often companies attempt to manage this process internally, but this is one area where outside consultants are invaluable. Not only will they have tried and true processes, they will come with a fresh outside perspective, absent of any historical baggage that may foster biases.
As a first step, talk to your employees. How are they feeling? Why do they come into work each day? Is it for a paycheck or are they motivated by purpose? What is good, what is bad and what needs to change?
Armed with what you learn, you can then craft the organizational narrative. Although components of your narrative may already exist, typically this would include:
Purpose: Why does your company exist and why does it matter?
Vision: Paint a picture of the future you want to create.
Mission: How will your organization contribute to making that future a reality?
Values: What sacred principles guide your organization and the behavior of your people?
With a well-crafted organizational narrative, you can rally the organization around a clear and consistent set of ideas. One that must be complimented by an internal communications plan that is just as important and strategic as any external marketing strategy.
Remember: your people will always be one of your primary audiences; treat them like customers.
Step 3: Walk it Out
Your culture is not a set of words on a poster. It is not an internal email newsletter that goes out once a week. It is not print materials that you distribute to your employees. And it is not a presentation that you deliver once a year at your annual meeting.
Culture is a living, breathing thing that must be nurtured on a daily-basis.
This is where most cultural consultants fall short. They help you craft the words, but don’t have a system to make and keep it real over time. They fail to walk it out.
Cultural implementation requires systems and processes that go beyond basic internal communications. How should meetings be run from now on? How do we start every meeting? How often should managers have 1-1 meetings with their employees? What is the structure for those meetings? What are a common set of problems faced on our workplace and what processes do we have to solve them?
At Think Shift, we use “Tools” to teach and create a common language across departments and hierarchies within organizations. Tools like Three Bars of Integrity which helps organizations work to communicate more transparently or Co-Accountability which guides people through holding each other accountable.