Challenging traditional power structures within business could be key to creating more leaders, and keeping them in the industry.
Tasmanian dairy farmer Matthew Gunningham’s business operations milk about 5000 cows, and told attendees at the recent National Nuffield Conference in Melbourne, the size of the operation means he spends more time with people than cows. The 2017 Nuffield scholar knew the right people were crucial to growing any enterprise, but realised there were gaps in management and motivation of employees in the dairy industry.
While researching in New Zealand, the US, the UK, Ireland and South America, Mr Gunningham found those businesses that had no formal hierarchy were kicking real goals.
“While a traditional business is the shape of pyramid, this is more like a spider web. Knowledge is spread through many connections and business is robust and flexible – knowledge is at the coalface, at ground level,” he said.
“Maybe we don’t need appointed leaders at all, perhaps we should be encouraging self-direction and leadership from everyone involved in our business, and encouraging more communication, collaboration and cooperation and perhaps we should be sharing responsibility with everyone.”
Empowering employees to be their own boss and show personal leadership, and creating live score cards that allowed employees to track their own progress and results had real benefits in people management, Mr Gunningham added.
Fellow 2017 scholar Jamie Heinrich is a sheep producer from Parndana in South Australia, and was concerned about how we get the right people into agriculture in the first place.
Mr Heinrich said we need the best and the brightest in agriculture, so it was essential to lose the perception that it was a career path for the non-study inclined.
“We need to lose the mindset that you need to own a sheep farm to be on the land,” he said.
“Obviously there is financial barriers there but there are ways around that and I saw around the world so many great examples of how people got into sheep farming with no background in the industry.
“The future of agriculture is going to need a completely different person. We will need a farmer on farm but we will also need engineers and IT people… and a lot of those skills that can be transferred through.
“What we need to do is have agriculture as one of those career options. A lot of people don’t realise that there are engineering jobs in agriculture so we need to make that obvious and have clear career paths into agriculture.”