#6 Developing And Promoting Our People

posted on Wednesday, January 4, 2017

“It all comes down to the fact that someone took an interest in helping me,” said Nick Benge, the manager for Sow 13 located near Jewell. Nick wasn’t always the farm manager, in fact like most people he started as a technician and worked his way up. Shawn Chaplin, his manager at the time, said when Nick started at the farm he had a passion for figuring out how things works, especially around the breeding and reproductive science piece of it, driven largely in part by his biology studies at Iowa State University.

Being a longtime farm manager who has helped develop many employees throughout his tenure, Shawn took notice of Nick’s work ethic, curiosity and potential. “One day I gave him a challenge, and that was to come up with a plan for space allocation at the farm,” said Shawn, who was in the midst of managing the farm through a remodel. “We talked on the phone couple times that evening, and the next day he came back with a diagram and a plan. And while it wasn’t exactly perfect, it was the start to many challenges I pitched him, and he kept getting better and better and thinking through solutions.”

Nick was promoted to breed lead, then breeding department head, then jumped over to lead the farrowing department when the opportunity opened up. “I kept the challenges coming, asking him what we should do about covering the work when we are two people short or how to best train a new employee, and Nick always came back with a good plan,” said Shawn.

While Shawn had to focus his attention on Sow 12, his other farm at the time, Nick stepped up to cover the manager duties at Sow 13 and stayed in close contact with Shawn and also Dan Dean, the senior supervisor who visited the farm often and “was always a phone call away” according to Nick. “When I came back 30 days later, I really wasn’t needed, and that’s the best feeling,” said Shawn.

Shawn said he really enjoys helping people develop and seeing them get promoted. “It’s part of our culture here, to help people move up the next position and then the next one,” said Shawn. “It’s fun for me to see how far they can go, especially when then become a manager like Nick and also Dustin Peck who managers Sow 113, because now we are all competing against each other in SelectPride. I watch their production numbers and sometimes they hit goals I can’t because of health status or other factors, and it makes me proud.”

Last year a total of 77 employees were promoted throughout the company, thanks to managers like Shawn and supervisors like Dan Dean, and hundreds of others who are stopping to explain why we do things, offer tips and advice, train on processes and even let others come visit their farms, join them for a “ride along” or simply be a helpful voice on the other end of the line.

“I can’t even quantify how many people here are making a huge impact by helping employees develop skills to be successful,” said Dana Spree, HR Supervisor and manager of the Production Leadership Program. “When you think about what goes into training the hundreds of brand new employees we hired this year to fill open positions and staff new farms, our 23 summer interns, and the 77 employees who were promoted into higher positions, the amount of people who have pitched in to help others have a good experience and be successful is astounding.”

Kailey Einspahr, now a Production Well-Being Specialist, started out as an intern at Sow 25, then moved to Sow 112, joined Sow 116 full time and worked her way up to breeding department head until joining the PWB team in December. “Adam Swalla and Elzette Dean (Sow 112 manager and BDH) really kick started my training and development and got me excited about a career in swine production,” said Kailey. “When I joined Sow 116 as a full time employee, Gerhard (farm manager) became my trainer and mentor and put a lot of time into understanding my goals and helping me get there.”

Kailey said Gerhard’s training, plus the formal training plans, checklists and overall structure of the Production Leadership Program really helped her stay focused. “Dana does a good job matching the personalities of the candidates with the trainers, and the check-ins and support from HR and supervisors Dan and Aaron Fopma kept her moving forward.

Because she has always been drawn to the work of the Production Well-Being department, Kailey has once again moved into a different role, a responsibility where her production experience is critical to being able to help farms improve. Now she is being trained and mentored by Jeff DeWeese, the senior-most specialist on their team.

“No matter who it is or what role you are in, you can always learn something from every single person in this company—use every opportunity to be curious, ask questions and take the initiative to ask for a challenge,” said Shawn.