Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Advice from Christensen Farms on how to connect people and enhance farm performance.

by Sasha Gibson

As human beings, one of our most basic needs is the ability to connect with each other.

If we look back at the past 15 to 20 years, we can see that there has been a big vision goal to connect with people and communities across the globe, with the introduction and popularity of such apps as Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, and others - all created to help fulfill this basic human need.

Today, the number of communication-related applications continues to increase. As an industry, it offers boundless opportunities to leverage those apps that can serve the needs of our people - especially farm teams - to foster cultures of engagement, connection, and inclusivity and, ultimately, drive performance.

Regardless of the technologies, applications, and other tools available to us, people are and will continue to be the most essential element in businesses achieving organizational success in helping achieve our goals and missions.

In an ever-changing industry of opportunity and complexity, one of the most important components within this puzzle is caring for the enthusiastic and committed people doing their part in being responsible producers of a wholesome, safe, and real protein source for people across the globe.

a group of diverse people giving high fives
Photo Credit: InputUX - stock.adobe.com

While every company or farm has its own unique culture and traditions, we all have a common goal of having and retaining talented, committed, and engaged team members who, at the same time, enhance overall performance.

The following summarizes a few key insights and learnings about the variety of connecting links between communication, inclusivity, engagement, and performance.

1. Successful and positive communication is more than the words that you speak.
As humans, we tend to overlook the importance and impact of body language, which is our nonverbal signals like facial expressions and gestures. The 7-38-55 Rule indicates that only seven percent of all communication is done through verbal communication (the words we speak). Whereas our nonverbal communication, including the tonality of our voice, makes up 38 percent, with the remaining 55 percent consisting of body language and facial expressions.

chart breaking down communication types

This is important because body language is universal and can make a critical difference in how people perceive their team members, manager, and work environment. For example, if you are pleased about a great result within your farm and sharing that amongst your team BUT have closed off body language, the positive message and tone may be lost.

So how do you stay mindful of what you are not saying? Facial expression is a big one. But also, for consideration are the placement of your arms when you stand - across your chest, for example, could imply that you are closed off or distant. Being mindful and intentional will help reduce conflicting body language and verbal messages, and support connection.

2. Ask your employees what you can do to promote their connection to your company objectives.
Engagement surveys are an indirect way to understand the connection to company objectives. Gallup Q12 is a worldwide survey that is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, further connected to the employee experience. These needs are linked to productivity and performance. One of the questions for ranking on the Q12 survey includes, ‘I have a best friend at work’. While this may not seem relevant to performance, it is quite the contrary. An employee who does not have a “go-to/best friend” person within their team or “work family” is going to be far less likely to be as connected, engaged, and enthusiastic as the person who does. Furthermore, impacting overall performance.

3. Look at your farm teams when they are together - are they connected? Are there platforms for them to support their own AND each other’s growth journey?
At Christensen Farms, we have established three Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. Currently at Christensen Farms, our ERGs are focused on the interests and opportunities for Women, Latinos, and Next Generation employees. These groups focus on amplifying and complimenting the organization’s strategic plans, the mission and creating opportunities for a broader range of team members to get involved in something outside of their typical daily responsibilities.

4. The use of technology such as handheld devices (smartphones) and apps is vital.
Today it is normal to have multiple languages spoken within a given farm team and organization within the pork industry. As you can expect, this can potentially cause barriers to clear and concise communication and performance if not managed accordingly between team members and managers. An option to address this barrier is using translation application technology, allowing team members to speak and have their message translated in real-time. This is a great option, but it does require internet connectivity, which is common within many farm offices, but less common INSIDE the farm.

Along with the increasing need for internet connectivity inside our farms to support the functionality of resources that help us communicate, we also have an opportunity to improve real-time reporting of data, safety opportunities, and incidents, among so much more.

5. Promoting connectivity includes sharing and providing opportunities through local ESL programs.
English as a Second Language is a free program offered through the Minnesota Department of Education’s Adult Basic Education (ABE) programming. Similar ESL (English as a second language) Programs are offered in other states and are great resources for those who want to learn English, with an option to either attend courses in person at local high schools or community colleges, or virtually. A couple of additional options include applications such as Babble or Duolingo or hiring a local teacher for a more direct and hands-on learning experience.

At Christensen Farms, we have partnered with a local ABE team to teach members of our teams through remote learning. This partnership has allowed us to build a sustainable program that provides classroom instruction at a time that works well with our employees.

6. Being intentional and taking time to professionally train our team members in every task will reap rewards.
There are more than a handful of tasks, processes, and activities that each employee must learn to be successful in their role. The approach to training and developing our team members requires planning and intention. This entails the following:

  • Plan or prime the activity.
  • Allow the learner to think about what they will learn.
  • Show them how to do the task, slowly and in small steps.
  • Allow them to do the activity with supervision (reviewing the training is critical).
  • Final steps, validation of the training - can the person do it in the right way at the right speed? Do they know what is important from a safety perspective? Do they have the basic skillset to troubleshoot the task?

The basic framework or workings of “teamwork” is also an important concept to understand how to best manage and lead a team to achieve the best team performance and results. The framework outlining how teams come together and eventually work together was established by Bruce W. Tuckman in the 1960s that we still refer to today:

Stage 1: Forming
The team members are usually excited to be part of the team and eager about the work ahead.

Stage 2: Storming
The team members discover that they cannot live up to early excitement. Feelings of frustration or anger with the lack of progress may develop, along with team conflict.

Stage 3: Norming
This is the time when flexibility and inclusion and realistic expectations occur. Real ideas are expressed, and the team members feel accepted.

Stage 4: Performing
Through this process, the team feels a sense of satisfaction, they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, gain a high commitment to the team mission, and progress is measured and celebrated. Knowing that it takes time for teams to get to the stage of performing, behaviors and communication need to promote stability along the journey.

This list is not exhaustive and there are many different approaches to consider when striving to continuously enhance engagement, connection, inclusivity, and performance.

The goal is to identify what is impactful and influential within your farms and overall organizational culture - and then have the willingness to try new things and be able to let go of things quickly if they do not fit what you need.

Simply by being aware of the needs of our people and working with them directly to fulfill those needs, more times than not, you will see the positive outcomes through performance, which supports the important mission we all have as an industry in producing safe, sustainable pork to feed a growing world.

Connecting People with Communication.

Sasha Gibson

Sasha Gibson, Training Operations Manager, and Amber Portner, Communications Manager of Christensen Farms.