#BillionPlus Advice

posted on Monday, June 12, 2017

What do you do when you have a few hours of road time with a supervisor? Heed our advice, interns—ask them about leadership. It’s oftentimes said in our business that the pigs are easy, but managing and leading is about selfless service—helping everyone get better, continuously improving the business and developing new leaders. And leading is not easy, it takes a whole lot of practice, a tremendous about of time and effort and sometimes even some soul searching.

Mark Lee joined Iowa Select Farms in 2013 as the manager of Sow 1, and then two years later transitioned into a dual farm manager by also taking the helm of Sow 2. Mark was again promoted to a supervisor last year, supporting Sows 23, 24, 27, 31, 33 and 36—more than 75 employees.

Mark had no shortage of learning's he’s accumulated from being in swine production for more than 20 years. As we work to recruit and develop young leaders for roles such as a junior sow supervisor and junior finishing supervisor, we asked what advice Mark had for them. Read on.

Take the time to know who you’re supervising—I’ve learned everyone is motivated in different ways by different things. Figure that out, and then take the time to do it. Maybe it’s a one-on-one pep talk or acknowledging a job well done in front of their team. If you find what excites, empowers and motivates each of your employees, the team as a whole will be much more successful.

Build trust—Whether it’s walking barns, coming early to greet people as they enter the farm or simply sitting down with them to have a conversation—you have to earn trust. I’ve learned that the easiest way to do that is working alongside them doing their assigned tasks. Most people don’t expect to see a supervisor in the barns processing pigs and helping with breeding—prove them wrong. There is no job in this company that is above anyone.

Never stop learning—Even after 20 years in the industry, I learn something new every single day. Whether it’s about pigs, facilities or the people I work with, I’m always asking questions. Our industry is constantly evolving and improving. Keep your eyes open, your ears listening, absorb, and grow as much as you can.

Set realistic goals—Sure, everyone wants to be a farm manager overnight, but they don’t necessarily know everything that goes along with it—the amount of responsibility is tremendous. Setting realistic, achievable goals, like understanding breeding PCP rates, colostrum management and farm maintenance is a good way to develop and improve yourself and your team.

Challenge yourself—Let’s say you’ve been in your role for a few years. Things are comfortable and the day-to-day routine is easy. Don’t sell yourself short! We are all capable of learning and taking on more, sometimes it just takes some courage to try something new and push yourself.

Be prepared to grow—When I came to Iowa Select Farms, I thought I knew it all. But when I got here and immersed myself in the hard-working, competitive, production-first culture, I realized that the expectations had completely changed. It humbled me and forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. I took it one step at a time. First as a farm manager, then as a dual-manager and now in my current role as sow supervisor. Expectations are constantly changing and you need to be prepared to grow along with them.

Surround yourself with others who will push you to succeed—I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be the best, and funny enough, so do my fellow sow supervisors. The Iowa Select Farms culture is fast moving with high expectations. Of course, we support each other in any way possible, but we also want to beat the heck out of each other’s production numbers. I think that competition pushes us to do the best that we possibly can, every single day.

Become a great communicator—There’s no sense in letting anger build up, especially on-farm when animal well-being is our top priority. If there’s conflict, address it. If there are good things happening, acknowledge them. If there are changes being made, discuss them with your team. It’s important that everyone is on the same page, working towards the same goals.

Commitment to health—There are going to be days when you simply feel defeated. You and your team will have done everything right, yet your farm still breaks with PRRS. Stay vigilant. Work with your vets. Follow biosecurity procedures and protocols. Things will eventually look up, but you have to stay committed to pig health all day, every day. It’s the most important thing that we do.

Stay balanced—I am so, so lucky to have the family that I do. They support me and my job, even when it means leaving the house at 3:00 a.m. on a Monday and not getting home until 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Having a strong support system will keep you balanced and my family does that for me. Whether it’s your family, friends, faith, you name it—find your happy. Find what keeps you balanced. #billionplus