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Are You Playing the Right Tune?
by Glen Ludwig

What kind of music is your agribusiness making? More importantly will the tunes you’re practicing today be popular with your audience in the future? Yes, these are off beat questions for an agribusiness article. But trust me, you’ll understand my point by the final verse.

First, I have to admit that the whole idea of “agribusiness harmony” was sparked by a book I recently read. It’s Brand Harmony by Steve Yastrow, a clear, powerful, easy-to-read book with some great ideas about marketplace positioning. I recommend it to anyone interested in creating a more polished customer experience and profitable agribusiness. That should include a long list of this magazine’s readers.

I know very little about music, and I certainly can’t carry a tune. It was my sister who was selected to play in the accordion band, so there went my music education. But despite this deficit of musical exposure, I think there are some links between great music and great agribusiness success. Here’s what I mean.

Note 1: Tune up your employment process.

I can only assume that great music most often resonates from fine instruments. Just as great customer service is typically delivered by firms with a hefty investment in fixed assets. But in both cases, the instruments or assets can’t do anything by themselves. They have to be utilized by skilled people. My guess is that the best musical groups spend more time recruiting the right performers than worrying about the best instruments.

Most agribusinesses, like the farmers they serve, are highly focused on fixed assets­—probably many times at the expense of attention to human assets. Agribusinesses are great at building facilities and buying iron. They have fine instruments.

In the future, though, many agribusiness leaders will need to pay more attention to who is in the band. Think about your employee selection process. Would a more structured process give you better results and maybe even reduce turnover? Do you audition (test for skills and attitude) your candidates by using any of the proven HR assessment tools available? Are current employees involved in the selection process? Do you draft a results expectations plan for your top candidate and review this plan during the final interview? And most importantly do you measure, evaluate and compensate based on results?

Note 2: Bring the best dancers to the dance floor.

A good dance band knows how to bring the best dancers to the floor. The leader makes the right tune selections for each set. When the floor is crowded with dancers (customers), the leader knows his market research was done well. If there are few venturing to the floor, the selection has missed its mark. The leader has failed to understand his clients.

Volumes have already been written about the importance of listening to your customers. I believe that most ag companies do a good job of listening to their current producer base, but I also believe that they’re not always listening to the right producers. The producers you most need to listen to are not always the most vocal, nor are they the ones who come through your door every week.

Let’s face it, your current customer base is getting older, and many of your best may soon be out of business. Don’t base your service and program selections solely on the needs of those who are about to hang up their dancing shoes. Use your time wisely by listening to your future customers.

Note 3: Play off the same page.

Before a conductor raises her baton to start an evening’s performance, she’s gone through weeks of preparation. The concert has been planned to create a satisfying evening for not only the audience, but the performers themselves. Each selection has been endlessly practiced and is fully understood by the performers. As the conductor turns her back to begin, she and her musicians are confident that their practice and planning will result in a flawless performance.

What does this process share with a successful agribusiness? Strong commitment to communication and a full understanding of the desired results are important in both situations. When I’m working with agribusiness clients, we often use employee surveys. The biggest concern employees typically express on these surveys is lack of effective communication.

Most employees want to understand the short-term plans and the long-term vision of your company. They want to have a sense of purpose. They need to feel they are engaged in something larger than themselves. Do what you can to help employees feel that when the company reaches its goals, they’ve accomplished something for themselves as well. When you do, employees become stakeholders in the future of the business.

Note 4: The final verse.

Whether your gig is making harmony in the concert hall or brand harmony in the feed mill, it’s happening with people who are: focused; selected for their roles; trained and rehearsed to improve their performance; and led by professionals who direct with precision and bring out the best from the group.

According to Steve Yastrow, all companies have a brand. Your “where the rubber hits the road” brand is not the name or logo over the front door. Your brand is not what you say you are. It is what your customers think you are. The experience you deliver to your customers every day adds or detracts from your brand. Keeping your business tuned to perfection can create great satisfaction . . . just like great music.

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