Why Company Culture is Key to Feed and Grain Businesses’ Success [Video]

People Spark Consulting’s Erin Mies says good culture helps organizations improve communication, navigate change better

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Transcription of Feed & Grain Chat with Erin Mies, co-founder of People Spark Consulting.

Elise Schafer, editor, Feed & Grain: Welcome to Feed & Grain Chat. I'm your host Elise Schafer, editor of Feed & Grain magazine.

This edition of Feed & Grain Chat is brought to you by WATT Global media and Feedandgrain.com. Feedandgrain.com is your source for the latest news, product and equipment information for the grain handling and feed manufacturing industries.

Today I'm joined on Zoom by Erin Mies, co-founder of People Spark Consulting, a human resources consulting company that works with food and agricultural companies. Erin has 15 years of experience coaching and consulting leaders and specializes in talent acquisition and international HR. Thank you for joining me today, Erin!

Erin Mies, co-founder, People Spark Consulting: Pleasure to be here, Elise, thank you.

Schafer: Great. Now, today we're going to talk about company culture, and I think this is a concept that some people struggle with. Can you just define culture for anyone who doesn't know if they have a company culture or what it is?

Mies: Sure. Every organization, as we look at it, every organization has a culture within it whether it's one that you intentionally want or whether it's one that has just kind of happened to your organization, you have one — it's really a culmination.

I look at it in terms of being an outcome. Sometimes when it feels like it's something where it's difficult to impact or influence, when I step back and think about it as the outcome of behaviors — the outcome of experiences and situations — that helps put it more within the scope of something that I can actually impact and do something about.

Schafer: So, what are the risks, or perhaps the symptoms, for organizations that don't have a strong company culture?

Mies: Sure. As I think about organizations that might not have a strong company culture, when we talk to leaders within those organizations, they're really frustrated. They're frustrated maybe by nitpicky things within their organization that are happening, where they're feeling frustrated that employees don't care. They're feeling frustrated that they can't give feedback to people, that they can't retain them and a lot of times that's more kind of surface-level of what's happening within the organization. Where when we look at culture, we like to break it down into what are the behaviors that are expected within your organization.

What do you want to see happen and what is happening today? Because that's the best way that we can impact culture overall, is by being clear and intentional by what we want and then understanding where we're starting from.

One thing, I think a fascinating study that's out there demonstrates that culture — the difference between a lousy culture and one that is a really strong culture — actually vary more within an organization, but are different maybe beyond, because of each individual team leader. And they're more different within an organization than they are from my organization to the next one.

Schafer: So, if leadership recognizes a lack of good company culture, what are the first steps they take to define theirs?

Mies: The first thing that that we would recommend, and then certainly, that we start off with our clients specifically on, is defining what you want within your business. Sometimes you'll hear talking about values within that. We'd like to break it down even further than that into those individual behaviors — the things that you want to see happening.

So, in your business, if you want to see that leaders are giving clear feedback, everybody knows how their work is connected to the business outcome, that might be a behavior that you identify that's important to your culture. You may also identify that, you know what, if I see somebody doing something unsafe or if I see an unsafe situation, I want my employees to feel like they can go ahead and they can speak up safely, that they can do something about it and they can act on that. Those are the types of things that we would want those leaders to be defining upfront that can help shape what that culture is that they want within their organization.

Schafer: So, you sort of touched on them, but are there any other golden rules or non-negotiables that need to be a part of every company's culture?

Mies: Yeah. With leaders, considering this around what they want for their organization, I would say to make it sound like you. Bring it to your level around what you want to see. It doesn't have to be something kind of nice and fancy that can be painted up on your conference room wall. It can very easily be, you know what, in our [company] we want to just speak up — we want to be able to speak up and speak what's on our mind and on our heart and that is totally appropriate.

A lot of times we will see it with our clients that are in the ag space, a focus on service. Specifically, with our customers having strong relationships with our customers where we know everybody who's coming into our business by name. We know a little bit about their business overall, so that we can not just help them for today's order, but we can be thinking about what additionally they may need in the future.

Another one that we often see is something around integrity and safety, where I'm speaking up when I see something unsafe. Taking action if I see a need for caring for another one of my team members, or I see something potentially unsafe — a condition or an action — happening within the business.

Schafer: Now, what roles do the frontline supervisors play in getting employees on board with a new company culture?

Mies: Yeah, this is the one that I mentioned a little bit earlier, too, is that the frontline supervisors have a significant impact on the culture within your organization overall. And if you think about that relationship that each individual supervisor has with their team, your employees are experiencing the culture through that relationship that they have with that supervisor, more so than they are with what the culture is that you're saying you want for your entire organization.

Frontline supervisors, if you have a business that has multiple locations, you may feel and see and experience that culture very differently between each one of those locations because of that relationship with the supervisor and employees. And so that's to be expected.

And the best thing that leaders of the organization can do for those leaders is to be really clear around what those behaviors look like for the culture that you're trying to build, so that your leaders see how it's interpreted and expected to be interpreted. They're not left to try to interpret what integrity means in their in their individual locations, which could look quite different.

Schafer: Now, in the feed and grain industry, mergers and acquisitions, and these turbulent transitional periods are very common. How does having a defined company culture help organizations navigate these changes?

Mies: I love this question. With understanding what your culture is — one, I think that this helps make the decision-making part of those mergers and acquisitions a lot clearer.

If you're looking at a potential merger or acquisition target, and as you're learning more about their business, and their culture is significantly different than yours, it at least gives you enough information to say potentially proceed with caution if we know that this is going to now involve a lot more change management because our cultures are so vastly different.

What I think it can also do, as well, is provide a helpful North Star, in a way, that these are the types of things that are really important for us to maintain through our larger organization if we're acquiring another business, or even if we're merging with another. Because if there's a merger, what you're also going to want to consider is how would we define what we want our culture to look like as a merged entity vs. how is it today.

This can prove to be a really helpful exercise for that combined leadership team to define right away and this helps also in a lot of your change application and communication as you go through the transactional part of that merger in being able to tie back to whether it's your performance metrics, how you're determining whether or not people are staying in roles, or if roles are changing. This can be that helpful North star in an activity that is very, very turbulent as you mentioned.

Schafer: Thank you, Erin, for your time today and your insights into company culture. If you'd like more information about what you learned today, visit peoplesparkconsulting.com. That's all for this edition of Feed & Grain Chat. Thank you, everyone, for watching and we'll see you next time!

Every feed and grain company has a culture, whether intentional or not. Those with poor company culture may experience high employee turnover, high rates of safety incidents or low customer satisfaction.

Addressing a company's culture can help improve those negative outcomes, but how do leaders turn their culture around or establish a new one? Erin Mies, co-founder of People Spark Consulting, shares helpful tips on building positive company culture in this Feed & Grain Chat, and reveals that frontline supervisors play a big role in how individuals view their company culture.