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Keys to Successful Company-Grower Relations

by 5m Editor
8 February 2008, at 12:00am

By Jim Plyler, Turkey & Health Specialties, LLC., and Susan Watkins, Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, University of Arkansas and published in Avian Advice Winter 2007 Vol 9 No. 4.

Good Relations are Important

Poultry production costs are at an all time high which means financially challenging times for the industry. No one needs to be reminded that when money is tight, frustration levels for both growers and company personnel can soar. That’s why it is important to remember the basics of being a good flock supervisor because actions that fuel grower unhappiness will benefit no one.

The Author

Dr. Susan Watkins
Extension Poultry Specialist


By focusing on and practicing the key elements for a positive working relationship, company personnel can help maintain grower confidence and help improve profitability even during tough times. Growers also can benefit from practicing relationship building skills because it helps demonstrate their desire to have the company’s support. Even the most inexperienced service technician will be more of an asset when growers treat the individual with respect and appreciation and vice/versa. The following paragraphs outline relationship building skills that are tried and true as noted by a long time successful poultry man. Sometimes just a little reminder of the basics is all we need to keep our business on the right track.

The Six Senses for Success

Sense of Awareness

Service technicians today carry a greater burden of responsibility than their predecessors and that makes it critical that eyes and ears remain wide open at all times. Any savvy old timer will quickly agree that it is usually overlooking/missing the little details that create some of the biggest challenges in poultry production. Unfortunately, in our current world of information overload, we often put on blinders because we feel it is the only way we can not be mentally overwhelmed. So the next time you find yourself distracted from the basics or consumed by issues that really are not essential to the core business of successful poultry farming, sit down with your best poultry grower and let them remind you what is important for producing a good flock. Use that information to make a checklist of what to notice when you pull on a farm or enter a barn. Writing it down and keeping it handy can help service technicians maintain a high level of awareness for the issues that count most. Be aware and focus on issues which you can correct or control!

Management Intensity

Closely associated to sense of awareness is maintaining focus on what is critical to the mission of rearing profitable flocks. That’s where the checklist comes in handy. Again, the information age has resulted in distractions that can eat up a lot of time and attention with little value to the grower, the service technician or company. Knowing what is important to the success of the business and staying focused can have a tremendous impact on your credibility as a company representative. Maybe it’s time for a farm inventory to see that everything that’s supposed to be in place is being properly utilized. If you have high feed prices, which we presently do, then your intensity should be on improving feed efficiency. Every point of feed conversion improves the company and producers pay check.

Sense of Urgency

When service personnel do not address issues or problems in a timely manner, they risk destroying their credibility with the grower and value to the company. When a grower concerned about a sudden spike in mortality calls, it is time to take immediate action because it is not only the grower’s livelihood that is threatened, but also yours as the company representative. Time is of the essence when diagnosing and correcting issues that involve delicate living creatures like commercial broilers and turkeys. If you do not care enough about your growers business to respond quickly when your grower sends out an SOS for help, then you are in the wrong business! Providing timely support to a grower can have a tremendous impact on grower loyalty and attitude because the action communicates that you genuinely care. Bottom line, correct the opportunities ASAP/PDQ!

Total Communication

Since service technicians typically spend more time with growers than any other company representative (save the feed truck driver) their ability to represent company policies and good bird management information to the growers is essential. The communication should be clear and concise yet positive whether it is written or spoken. Growers deserve the truth, but they also deserve to have the message delivered in a manner that is understandable and clearly addresses the issue at hand. Growers also deserve a service technician that works as a partner not as a policeman. Windshield time sometimes impairs logic/positive thinking. Stick with and communicate the proper game plan.

Listening

The least taught and most neglected skill in our society is the art of truly listening to others. Once again, the information overload age often causes us to selectively choose the pieces of information we wish to hear and that is usually the bits of info that will make our lives less stressful. Unfortunately many times, the real issues of problems lie just under the surface and may need a little coaxing to get to the root cause. And the only way to get there is often by genuinely listening to the whole message and by asking questions. If a service technician finds themselves distracted and missing a message from a grower that could be crucial information, it is time to practice good listening skills. Sometimes this can be as simple as making a commitment to paraphrase the message that has just been heard. When a person knows they must recall the gist of a received message, an effective practice is to say “Let me make sure I have this straight, you have just told me that ….” This practice encourages service technicians to stay focused on the information delivered as well as how the message is delivered. When the grower knows the service technician is focused on their issues, then the communication channels are opened for problem solving. Successful listening and communication is a two way exchange.

Teamwork

Every marketed flock bears many signatures, from the hatchery and breeder manager, to the feed delivery personnel and others. But the most visible signatures on the flock report card are those of the grower and the service technician because they have the most influence on the bird environment, which includes air quality, temperature and availability of feed and good water. Nothing should make a service technician or grower prouder than when their “signature” on a flock are signs of success; low costs, good livability, weights, good gain per day, and feed conversions, resulting in a good pay check. Key to producing a “signature” flock is cooperatively focused team work, with the service technician and the grower being the team leaders.

Who are Poultry Producers?

To build a successful and rewarding relationship with contract producers and farm managers, a service technician must understand the grower culture. Producers are managers who are intelligent and often educated if not formally then certainly through hard work and experience. Producers usually have chosen poultry farming because they like independence or the opportunity to be their own boss and set their own work schedules. They have a desire for success and they tend to be goal oriented. Poultry growers are human and like to be treated with respect. Finally, many growers are second and third generation. More and more growers are older and most likely from a generation very different from the generation of the service technician. Poultry growers deal with the same issues as the company; environmental compliance, food safety (proper use of chemicals and reduction of food pathogens), bird well being and increasing production costs. A service technician must be able to explain how flock costs are determined on a performance contract, and the producer should understand the contract and how performance contracts work. The bottom line, service technicians and growers really have much more in common than they are different. By focusing on the common bonds, service technicians can forge a strong relationship with their growers. By understanding and respecting who a grower is, service technicians can build trust and loyalty. Producers are the life blood to any poultry company!

Successful Service Technician/ Flock Supervisor Qualities

Be consistent

Consistent application of company policies and procedures without exceptions is important, but it is also important to recognize that each grower has a different temperament and personality. Some growers require only a gentle nudge to get a response, while others may require a firmer approach. Conscientious service personnel may spend more time seeking to understand growers than dealing with production issues, but it is worth the effort. Going the extra mile for every grower and visiting each farm consistently sends a powerful message to growers you care and seek to be as fair as possible. It is also important to be diligent. Don’t wait too long to implement corrective action. Follow-up when you request a grower to implement a solution to a problem. If you are not diligent, the word will get out that you do not stick to your goals or become inconsistent in your expectations.

Be professional

Always treat producers with respect even if the relationship becomes strained. Remember everyone can have a bad day due to personal problems so when mindsets are bad, wait to address issues. Always be totally truthful. Never be afraid to admit when you are wrong and be willing to apologize when you are at fault. Documentation is a very important aspect of professionalism. Keep accurate and detailed records to help prevent miscommunication.

Be fair

Let farm managers/producers know you care and that you want them to be successful. Make sure requests to growers are realistic and doable. Recognize and praise good work.

Be focused and spend time wisely

Do not let the job become boring and routine. Avoid redundancy which leads to boredom and complacency. Often we can be overwhelmed by how much needs to be accomplished and it becomes so overwhelming that it is almost tempting to just do nothing. Once again it can be easy to get in a rut so when you find self losing focus or motivation to do a good job, then find at least one thing on each farm to focus on. It could be air, litter or water quality, but take that concept and make sure you have helped that producer get the best that he can with that concept. Then move to another area. By breaking the production cycle into specific categories, then focusing on specific topics, the job can become manageable. Other ways to break the rut cycle are conducting a farm inventory. It is amazing how many times we can find things that need to be addressed when we specifically look at all the details. One example of a farm inventory step would be to count all the brood stoves and categorize them into working or non-working stoves. Do the same with feed pans, nipple drinkers etc. You very well may help a producer identify root causes to problems.

Ask for feedback

Just like the trucks which have the “How’s my driving?” signs, we need feedback to assure we are effectively performing the job. It is amazing how many people including growers will never say a word about a topic until asked. If a service technician genuinely wants to help a grower improve their bottom line then try asking the following questions.

  • What can I do to help?
  • What do you need to succeed?
  • What do you think?
If nothing else, this helps establish that the grower-service technician relationship is a partnership.

Explain the importance of issues

Set the right example by knowing the business yourself. This makes it much simpler to educate others and when we educate, we stand a much better chance of convincing others that our ideas are solid.

Credibility

Credibility is based on having a genuine understanding of the business including grower costs and pay. A service technician should be able to explain flock costs on a settlement sheet because it proves credibility as a company representative. It also builds trust if a service technician genuinely understands and cares about the business. No one has all the answers all the time. Therefore if the grower raises a question which the service technician can not readily answer; credibility can be made by assuring the grower that you will get an answer and then follow through in a timely manner.

Conclusion

Which rung on a ladder is the most important? Every rung is equally important and this theory is the same for poultry production. Every signature on a flock is equally important in the success or failure of the flock, but there are certainly two flock signatures, namely the grower and the service technician which are the most visible. During tough times, the necessity of a strong service technician-poultry grower relationship is critical. By focusing on the six senses of success, knowing the business and taking time to practice the qualities of success, service technicians can build bonds with growers that will weather hard times.

January 2008