Pollmann: Make the most of your human capital

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black silhouettes of business people

The US pork industry is challenging under the best of circumstances, with enough variables to make even astute, savvy businesspeople cautious. However, one of the biggest components of a successful, healthy operation is human capital, and how managers and veterinarians interact with the farm staff needs not be rocket science, says Steve Pollmann, PhD, a well-known pork-industry consultant.

Pollmann’s passion is to “help people be successful in their endeavors.” He works with some of the largest operations in the US and is widely respected in the pork and poultry industries. His thoughtful, quiet leadership style served him well in many roles, including president of Murphy-Brown Western Operations, a division of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork production company.

“We’re in the people business — we just happen to raise pigs,” Pollmann told National Hog Farmer when he was interviewed for the 2012 Master of the Pork Industry award. “We have to spend as much time developing our people as we do raising pigs.”

The right stuff

It’s difficult to know for sure if someone is a “good fit” for an operation during the interview process. The previous CEOs at General Electric looked for people who were externally focused, imaginative and confident, writes Geoff Colvin, senior editor-at-large of Fortune in his book, “Talent is Overrated.” GE’s Jack Welsh looked for people who were energetic and had the ability to energize, who were decisive, and who had the ability to execute.

But Colvin found the gifts possessed by the best performers are not at all what we think they are: “The factor that seems to explain the most about great performance is something the researchers call deliberate practice,” he writes.

Standard operating procedures are a good start in the process, but in too many cases, these documents are put on a bookshelf to gather dust. That means human interaction can be an important facet of onboarding and subsequent job performance.

From this perspective, managers should consider themselves mentors in a new way — not just as wise people to whom employees turn for guidance, but as experienced masters who can advise them on the skills and abilities they need and can provide feedback on how they’re doing.

“In all practice activities it’s highly valuable to get others’ views about what you should be working on and how you’re doing,” Colvin stresses. With time, employees increasingly became responsible for their own motivation, when provided the right tools.

Ownership in the operation

Producers need to figure out how to be a competitive employer and get quality talent in the buildings, says Pollmann. He recommends creating an environment that instills greater ownership and involvement in the business.

“Workers are our most important assets” became the dominant metaphor of late 20th-century management; however, that designation falls short of fully expressing the value people bring to the workplace.

The best managers “amass personal capital and try to invest it judiciously, husbanding it and deploying it to the best advantage,” says Thomas Davenport, author of “Human Capital.”

It’s easy to see how cultivating your workforce becomes a high priority. Davenport suggests you set the stage through workplace environment:

  • Let people forge the link between individual investment and your operation’s strategic goals.
  • Provide information early and often to help employees understand how your business becomes and remains successful.
  • Communicate to be understood.

“An organization that provides the network where learning occurs, competency grows and intrinsic satisfaction thrives creates the enduring emotional and social links that hold people more surely than money,” Davenport writes.

Good lessons

When Pollmann was the general manager at Circle Four Farm in Utah, the staff hired as many local people as possible. However, some of the “recycled” local people had a lower work ethic than the educated Hispanic workers they brought in, and who ultimately became the predominant part of the workforce.

“Bringing in workers to those locations was the key to success there,” Pollmann says. “We ended up going from maybe a 5% Hispanic workforce to probably 40% to 50%. You bring people in and you create an environment so they feel comfortable. They can grow and they contribute, and it’s fulfilling to go back to those locations to see how they’ve taken on leadership roles.

“Some of the people you’ve hired come up and give you a big hug and thank you for giving them a new way of life. Now they’re married and have kids — they’re proud of their heritage and they’re glad to be here. It’s totally different than the kind of things we often hear. They’re contributing to society and they love being valued,” Pollmann adds.

“We encouraged our colleagues to be willing to learn and provided learning opportunities such as priority management, conflict resolution, financial understanding and continuous improvement methods.

“When these new skills become part of their leadership style, they were more effective and business results improved.  Equally important, they were happier and felt valued and engaged in the work place and in personal life.”

Develop a management track

People want to be appreciated, and they want the opportunity for advancement. Are you offering a future to your employees?

“You have to have some sort of management-track program,” Pollmann says. “Your employees will grow based on their ability to accomplish certain competencies. You can clearly lay out that pathway for them to say, ‘Okay, here’s how you get to where you want to be.’

“You need to be comfortable having them take time from routine production responsibilities to improve their leadership skills.  This may take as much as 5% of their total work time in formal training and coaching.”

Pollmann strongly believes “the results you create are the measures of your success,” and that sentiment is especially true when it comes to empowering employees.

“When our people get stronger, our processes get better. And when our processes get better, our profitability improves. It’s so fundamental and so commonly overlooked,” Pollmann stresses.  “In addition, one’s home life generally improves, which contributes to society as a whole.”

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