I have been asked numerous times who I look up to. Who I emulate, respect, and try to be in both my personal and professional life. The easy answer would be to spout off all my mentors, role models, business partners, or even my spouse. But the truth of the matter is that I look up to and want to be my father.
When we choose role models, most of the time, we believe it is the person we are focusing on. However, when you step back and identify what we as humans are trying to accomplish in life, it is always the values that drive us. In my father, I saw a man that never talked down to anybody, no matter friend or foe. He never missed a sporting event, school play, or life no matter the season. If it meant getting off the drill to catch school provincials in badminton, he was there. I got my work ethic from him. We were not rich growing up; we got by. Agriculture in the 80s and 90s was not what it is today. Farms were not million-dollar businesses with loads of multi-generational equity to rely on. You had to work hard, and you still lived paycheque to paycheque. But we were never denied anything that was not too far out of range. This I respect him for.
I was reminded of the values discussion a couple weeks back when the farm was invited to tour the Brandt facilities in Regina. Numerous buildings, strung across the city, all of which were more impressive than the last. It was honestly manufacturing efficiency at its best. Every shop floor was the same material, the walls the same paint colour, and the employees followed the same process. It was impressive, to say it lightly. But the one thing I took from the tour was the simplest items. In every lunchroom (we are talking space for hundreds of employees), they had four large posters on the walls that simply said:
- QUALITY in our people, products, services, and facilities.
- INNOVATION in product design, technology, and business processes.
- COMMITMENT in our pursuit of opportunities to create value for our customers and company.
- CUSTOMER FOCUS in everything we do.
These core values were attached to pictures and had to be 10ft by 10ft in size across the large hall. The most important part of their business was that the employees saw these core values every time they entered the hall for lunch or coffee.
So, why is this important? It is important because in primary producer agriculture this simplest step in business is often overlooked. We focus on day-to-day operations and ensuring we get the grain in and out. Farms of any size put little importance on the task of creating the core values. That’s not to say they don’t live by a set of beliefs, it’s just that none of their employees or family could probably recite these.
At Hebert Group, we have taken time to invest in core values. Before implementing EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) in 2020, we focused on having a “legacy statement.” To leave the dirt, financial statements, community, and industry in a better place than the last generation. We still believe in this, and it still sits on the wall of our office; we just expanded its meaning.Creating core values at our first EOS session was as simple as looking at our current employees and coming up with a list of traits that were behind the reason we hired them. From this list, we created, and live by, the following core values of our business:
When we were approached by a large landlord to take on a 30% expansion in acres, we did not take the decision lightly. The farm had already grown by 50% the prior year, and taking on another expansion would double our size in less than three years. As a leadership team, we all had ideas of what the future would look like; it just wasn’t a three-year plan. We let the team decide. Sitting down all our staff members and presenting the opportunity we left it to chance. Did they believe it would end up being more hours and more work? Did they believe the return to them was greater than the task of new acres? These questions were not something we knew the answers to. But here we are, approaching 30,000 acres, and that tells you the mentality of our team.
The second story again revolves around EOS. As part of the process, we are tasked to share our ten-year target with our team. Since we are a progressive farm that is not afraid of growth, we took a 2X mentality and set the target at 60,000 acres (whether this is correct or not we needed a number big enough to motivate but small enough to not strike fear). So, we set up a summer event with a BBQ and swimming for the families and presented this plan to the staff. An hour later, one of our longest-running employees of the Hebert Group approached us and said, “thought it would be higher”. Our own employees believe we sandbagged. This is the value of a growth mentality.
Innovate and Optimize
On a farm as technological and attracted to data as we are, you might be expecting something complex to explain this value. Farm operations are often way more creative than the technological world. When we do public speaking, we often refer to our spraying operations as an example of where we want to increase machinery efficiency. After all, the average sprayer only has booms on 36% of the time it is running (the rest is filling, transport, etc.) So a large part of our efficiency analysis is trying to improve upon these benchmarks.
In 2020 we decided that to increase efficiency we would invest in a new spray trailer, a Phiber system, to be exact. For most farms, this would be the final step, buy new machinery and use it. However, our operations and mechanical staff looked at the trailer and over the next year tore it apart and adjusted it to increase efficiency even more. We wanted to load numerous sprayers off the same trailer with ease. The funniest part of the story is that Phiber has implemented some of our changes on the next generation of trailers. This is the value of innovation and optimization .
One thing that I have learned since joining Hebert Group is that relationships in business cannot always be win-lose. In life, we always look at transactions as win-lose. By buying a car, negotiating wages and playing sports, we always force the fact that day-to-day somebody is winning, and somebody is losing.
The change for me was talking to a mentor from my previous life as an accountant, Dean Klippenstine. We were discussing pay rates on farms, and his line was, “if the farm can make gobs of money because of your employees, pay them what they are worth”. I had always assessed farm costs based on benchmarking to industry or comparing wages per hour to other farms. Assessing the farm’s profits and paying bonuses and other extras was not really heard of in agriculture quite yet. This was ahead of its time.
Now, skip ahead three years, and Hebert Group has implemented a full profit share bonus for our employees. Not only are they rewarded for their performance in day-to-day operations and living the core values, but they also get rewarded for helping the farm stay profitable. If the farm can hit certain metrics or profits per year, the entire team receives a bonus based on a percentage of current salary. This is the value of a win-win.
Can’t is not an Option
A quote from Louis, the founding member of Hebert Grain Ventures, “can’t is not an option; it is only a challenge.” In a world where mentalities have made a major shift towards giving up when times get tough, we continue to focus on the fact that no problem is bigger than our team. In fact, when we were asked what our company’s niche was during the EOS process, we did not pick the usual producer answer of “growing grain.” We tagged “solving agriculture’s puzzles.”
So let me set the scene for this example. It is the fall of 2019, something we have tagged as the Harvest from Hell. Loads of bad weather and conditions not favourable for our goal of a 40-day harvest have left barley acres sitting in the field under snow cover and frost. It is late December, and all the combines are still sitting in the field with heaters on the engines so that if conditions exist, we can get the remainder of acres off, we will. Most neighbours around us have already parked the machines for the year and decided that spring combining was a better plan.
As we closed in on Christmas, 8:00 p.m. one night, the conditions were perfect (not optimal at this point but doable) to get the remaining acres off. The problem is that this could only be accomplished in the dark when things were frozen and not soaking wet. The ask went out to our employees that if they could spare the time to jump in a machine, it would be appreciated but since it was the holidays, there is no way this is a requirement. This was the night we realized how special our farm team was; every member showed up in six layers of clothes and was ready to put sleep aside until the next day. This is the value of can’t is not an option
Numerous stories over the time I have worked at Hebert Group portray these values. But as I finish up this blog, I realize that this is just a small portion of the reasons why I believe in creating values for your company. The real reason is my memories of my father showing up in the middle of seeding (whether good or bad) to cheer me on, face covered in dirt and boots tramping mud across the school gym. These values I will never forget.