"The biggest change has been everyone’s mindset - the way we think about each other and how we solve problems together."
NAME: Mark Guscott
ROLE: Director, Glen Eden Farms
SECTOR: Sheep & Beef, Arable
TEAM SIZE: 3
Mark and Susannah Guscott farm sheep and beef, grow a range of crops, and manage a tourism venture on their property near Martinborough. Mark shares how the Growing People from Good To Great course, has helped him understand himself better, seen his team work better together, and is enabling the business to grow.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your business.
My wife Susannah and I farm 1100 hectares and employ three people - two full-time and one part-time. We also manage the luxury accommodation on our farm. 20 years ago, before I got back into farming, I worked in banking. It gave me a lot of valuable experience of working with a lot of different people but there’s always potential to learn more.
What inspired you to improve your workplace?
As our business grows, we need a team around us who are effective and efficient. I believe that if our people skills are good, life is good and almost anything is possible.
Many farmers do a great job at looking after their staff but unfortunately, in general, the sector has a reputation (which I don’t think is correct) for being hard on their staff. On top of that, farming can be seen by potential recruits as a tough job with long hours in isolated places.
As employers we need to keep learning how we can best look after people. I would say that 80 percent of managing other people requires us to understand ourselves better. That’s the best place to start. We need to learn to listen more; learn what to say and what not to say; learn how to say things and how not to say things.
As a business, we knew we were in a good place with a good team, but I’ve always been interested in people and psychology, and I’m always keen to have new tools in my box.
Which course has most helped you improve your workplace?
It was good luck that when one of our key staff expressed an interest in learning some people skills too, I heard from the facilitator Andy Freeman about the Growing People From Good To Great course. It’s being piloted by the Wairarapa Primary Skills Group.
I started the course with my wife Susannah, one of our key staff, and one of our part-time staff in early 2021. It’s a 12-month course involving bi-monthly workshops off-farm with other agricultural businesses and guest speakers. It’s really useful to have months between the workshops, to reflect on the content and try what we’ve learnt.
The workshops are followed up with 1:1 coaching and mentoring. Sometimes the facilitators visit us on-farm, so they can get to know us in our own workplace.
The course uses principles of DISC personality profiles to help us understand the different ways people in our team learn communicate and work.
Were there any challenges or obstacles?
Farm technology and operations are the easy parts of farming, but managing people is one of the hardest aspects of running any business. We were prepared to put the work into learning new people management skills because it’s ultimately better for everyone.
Learning about yourself and others can be challenging and confronting, but in a good way. If you’re not prepared to dig very deep, you’re unlikely to strike much gold. We thought that one of our older staff would be a bit hesitant at the start, but once he got involved he became quite interested. It’s been really valuable for everyone.
What changes have you or your team made?
The biggest change has been everyone’s mindset - the way we think about each other and how we solve problems together. For me personally, the course made me realise that sometimes I was trying to be too nice - too easy - on my team. Naturally I want to create a positive environment but there are times when I need to be more confident and upfront with people. That’s one example of a simple but important change I’ve made.
Some of our staff have really come out of their shells. Everyone is trying harder because they can see the value of learning and pushing themselves. People are asking to take on more responsibility too, which frees me up to work on other things.
How have the changes benefited your workplace?
The impact of improving my and our team’s soft skills is hard to measure. It feels like we’re in a better space than we were before we did the course. Everyone’s newfound skills have given me the confidence to expand our business even further.
Finding great junior staff can be challenging. But we recently advertised for new staff, and it was encouraging to see the quality of people applying. One applicant rang to say they were excited about the career training and development opportunities that come with the job. I took that as a good sign. Investing in our people pays off in all kinds of ways. The ultimate, long-term measure is that we retain our team for a long time.
What advice would you give to other employers wanting to create a great workplace?
If the Growing People from Good To Great pilot course continues, I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand themselves better. Even if it’s a husband and wife or small team of staff.
If I come up against the same problem more than once, chances are I need to look at myself first. I ask myself ‘Is there anything I’m doing to create this problem?’ Or ‘Is there anything I’m doing that might be making the problem worse?’
As farmers we’re often working alone for hours at a time. You can look in all directions some days and not see a single person. That can be a luxury, but it doesn’t bring out the best in everyone. Getting together with other farmers to learn new skills doubles as a social event. It’s another way to make connections with people in your community.
How easy was it to access the course?
There are a lot of initiatives to support farmers with technology and operations but learning how to look after people and get the best out of their team is a new frontier.
I’m pleased to have jumped at the opportunity to do the course. The skills we’re learning aren’t just good for work on our farm. They’re skills for my life.