The Lie You’ve Been Told – Hours Worked is not a Badge of Honour

It’s not possible to work 10X harder and 10X longer to achieve 10X growth – Dan Sullivan, Creator of Strategic Coach


I have a love-and-hate relationship with social media. Some days I read comments and it infuriates me and then some days it inspires me. Today was a day that it did both. On that note, what would your response be if I told you that hours worked have no correlation with success? I’m sure some of you agree and some will be infuriated. 


I recently read a poll on Twitter that discussed efficiencies in labour – acres per employee to be exact. The first few comments were constructive with multiple medium-to-larger scale farms providing some good data for others to benchmark against. Then we got to the masses. 


The next slew of comments were in relation to farms that only had family or minimal employees. The message was clear, “I do everything on my farm”. Here is where the unpopular opinion comes in, that is not a badge of honour.


When I started out in public accounting, I didn’t realize that “selling time” was a thing. I thought providing the service was the main concern. But as the years moved along, I came to realize that billable hours and selling time were the goals. 


To be fully transparent, this was a big motivator in why I became an entrepreneur. I got away from time sheets and being judged based on hours worked. I started using words like “value-added” or “self-managing” and tried to leave behind bad habits. Many of my employees will tell you that I still am a work in progress, but not working weekends or sleeping at the office is a victory.


So why do so many primary producers believe that hours worked are the goal? Is it passed down through generations of sweat on the brow and mud on the boots mentality? Or are we as farmers stuck in the same spot that I was as an accountant because we don’t know any better?


Moving back to the Dan Sullivan quote; I have attended Strategic Coach since 2019. I am not sure I can ever truly thank my business partner for making this a requirement, it has made all the difference in my mindset. I now have a significantly different viewpoint on business than before. You can teach an old dog new tricks, and this trick was how to focus on success, not hours worked.


Your Future Self


In our business, we have focused significantly on spending more time with family. We have created a self-managing operation that continues independently of ourselves. It has changed how I see retirement. I don’t ever want to sit at home and grow old, I want to run my companies from a seat on the board for as long as I can. 


I have dealt with numerous farms throughout my career, both in public accounting and now in consulting. I have seen those that work 3,000 hours per year and have not attended a single-family event during seeding or harvest throughout their farming careers. I was not brought up this way. I remember my dad shutting down the drill to attend graduation, and school sporting events. I remember those days way more than the days when he worked around the clock. On our farm, we don’t put hours ahead of family or memories, and the work still gets done.


The Team Around You


The majority of producers I deal with today want answers on progressive growth and working less, not more. This is a large distinction from a decade ago when agriculture producers were just trying to survive. They are now starting to become entrepreneurs and business owners that understand you cannot do it all alone. Even a small farm can have economies of scale by not being the CEO and the janitor all on the same day. This is where the team becomes important.


Delegation and leverage have become my best friend. In fact, my wife is excellent at delegating many tasks my way these days (don’t tell her I said that). In business, I hire strong people that are, hopefully, better than me! Strategic Coach has taught me that the first step is to delegate tasks that you are not good at or don’t enjoy. The real test is whether you can delegate tasks you are good at, and that you do enjoy. This is the true journey to self-management and creating a business that will outlast its founders or owners. 


Mental Health


Let’s not sweep it under the rug, being a primary producer today comes with its share of challenges and stress. For many operations, they carry all of that stress on their shoulders, and many believe that if they work harder the weight will get lighter. This is a bad misconception, as stress is a bit like quicksand and the harder you struggle the more you sink. 


Rugged individualism in agriculture is a compounding force on our mental health; the belief that doing it alone, or micromanaging, will lead to success is a major issue. Many people believe that growth leads to more work (as the song says: more money, more problems). However, if done properly, growth leads to freedom of time which I have found as I get older is a large deterrent against anxiety. By creating a team, you share the load and as such you share the responsibilities and stress. For me, this was a lesson I wish I had learned much earlier in my career. People are an asset, not a cost.


The Nay Sayers


You know who you are; and I know who you are too. I thought rather than leaving the blog open to negative comments, I’m going to go over the rebuttals here:


  1. Cost – A good employee could be upwards of $60,000 to $80,000 per year on most farms. To put on my accounting hat, on a 3,000-acre farm that would be approximately $25 per acre cost. Assuming a full canola rotation that is 1.5 bushels more yield (at $15 canola) or $0.62 more per bushel (at 40 bu canola). I find farms correspond better to yield or price per commodity. The question I pose is that if 50% of your workload was reduced through one employee, could you allocate your time to finding 1.5 more bushels or $0.62 of price? This is the moment where your brain can shift from cost to investment. By delegating the remedial tasks that make your business no money, you can then have time to focus on those that do. More often than not this will compound in returns, and you will find both (which would be a $141,900 return or an ROI of 1.77 on the employee cost).
  2. Labour Market – How do you find that good employee when all other industries are paying a premium? For starters, make the position a career, not a job. Most young people looking for work want something that they can be passionate about, have the ability to grow in, are secure in terms of benefits and salary, and have a work-life balance. Now that you know the end result, create the journey. Many of the farms I work with already have benefits packages for their family, adding employees is not that hard. The more you pay a really good or experienced employee, the more the return is. Lastly, get out of the bubble. I have seen farms provide scholarships to new students in return for co-op programs, I have seen housing and trucks provided, and I have seen overtime paid. You name it, farms are doing it. 
  3. Communication – Welcome to what I actually believe is the largest holdback for most farms. A business with the same size of equity and returns as most farms would have a full-time human resource manager. Yet, in farming, nobody ever taught producers how to manage people. In fact, from what I have seen, the best managers were farmers that started out in industry and returned to the farm. Focus on transparency and direct communication, complete performance reviews, allow employees to be part of some decision-making, and give them responsibilities. 


Your worth is not based on hours. Instead of judging your own success by how hard you work, judge yourself based on what you have accomplished.