Nuffield Australia 2015 Scholar
Intrinsic link between staff satisfaction and agricultural business performance
Having the human capital to resource the future expansion of Australian agriculture as demand for food grows with global population, has inspired the research of a Western Australian mixed cropping farmer and scholar Reece Curwen. The Stirling-based producer, manages his family’s 6,500 hectare cropping program that includes canola, barley and wheat, in addition to 10,000 head of merino ewes.
It was recognition that as farm businesses grow, so too does the need for team members, that led him on his two-year research journey, which included more than 16 weeks travel through 11 countries.
Mr Curwen said his study, which was supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), focused on investigating best practice in people management across the agricultural sector.
“People are our most important resource but the reality of hiring and retaining staff in rural areas, particularly in primary industries at peak times of the year such as harvest, can be incredibly challenging. I wanted to understand how other managers in a similar position were inspiring and leading their teams, whilst at the same time boosting productivity on farm.”
Of all the farm businesses Mr Curwen visited overseas, he found the most successful had mastered staff retention and were considered an ‘employer of choice’ in their industry and community.
“The strongest businesses were led by strong leaders that practiced good governance, core values, continual communication and accountability measures. They empowered their employees, and gave them the tools to succeed, which led to increased professional and personal growth. This is particularly relevant for the younger generations who are primarily motivated by a successful and positive culture, rather than salary or status.”
Mr Curwen’s research highlighted key areas of improvement for family farms including the need for more training so as to encourage people to thrive in the workplace.
“Investing in training makes sense, particularly when people are so important. Continual training demonstrates that the leadership value their employees, which in turns help to motivate and upskill their staff. Getting staff more involved in the business, both at a technical and strategic level pays off. On the most successful farms I visited, the leadership style had shifted away from telling people what to do to empowering people and allocating responsibility.
“With Australian agriculture entering a new wave of growth and prosperity, there’s never been a better time to sell the positive story of a career in farming and where it can take you. When a business or industry becomes attractive, it attracts people.”
Mr Curwen’s report includes a wide array of case studies and practical examples of where and how family farms are creating ‘winning teams’ to unlock the full potential of their employees, their business and their industry.