Seed World

How Connecting Employees’ Families Improves Company Culture

Gro Alliance

A third-generation seedsman, Jim Schweigert grew up in the family seed business and was exposed to industry issues at an early age. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in public relations from the University of Minnesota and worked for corporate public relations firms in Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta before joining the family business full time in 2003. He has since been active in the American Seed Trade Association, the Independent Professional Seed Association and earned his master’s in seed technology and business from Iowa State University. As president, Schweigert manages client contracts and crop planning, as well as business development and new market opportunities. His unique background and experience make him one of the seed industry’s leaders in innovation. As such, he was honored as Seed World’s 2009 Future Giant and currently serves as chair of the board of directors for Seed Programs International.

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Maintaining a close-knit, company culture is difficult as a business expands. This is especially true when a company diversifies by adding new business divisions and/or multiple locations. Certain employees then have fewer, natural interactions and communication can be siloed by activity or location. The disconnection is compounded when travel budgets are reduced, and virtual meetings replace face-to-face interactions. The side conversations disappear, and employees don’t have the chance to learn about what makes their coworkers … human.

Since our founding in 1941, a family-style culture has been a key to our success. Keeping employees connected to that past and to each other has been a major contributor to their job satisfaction and ultimately, to their performance.

But, we’ve also expanded the business to two countries, six locations and multiple crops. Maintaining a family-style culture through that kind of expansion takes more than occasional management visits to each location. It takes a concerted, company-wide effort to create the opportunity for all employees to build real, personal relationships.

That’s why we started hosting an Employee Appreciation Weekend, to continue building personal relationships, but also to show our employees that we care for them as if they were part of our family.

This year was our fourth annual Employee Appreciation Weekend in the Wisconsin Dells. The company covers a two-night hotel stay for employees and their families and hosts dinners on Friday and Saturday nights. Each employee gets a $100 gift card and a $20 gift card for each child. 

Friday night, we take time to celebrate employee milestones, both personal and professional. The 2021 event carried much more significance than in the past. We marked two years’ worth of employee promotions, new hires, marriages, graduations, new home purchases, new family additions and honored employees for their upcoming retirements. Employees mingled, kids played at the water parks, old memories were recounted and new ones were made. It was a great weekend!

Holding this event keeps our company grounded in its family roots. Coming from a year where we all spent so much time in front of a computer screen, these kinds of connections have been hard to come by.

As one of the nation’s largest family-owned companies in the seed industry, we need to work hard to balance the structure necessary to support our continued growth with the family culture that’s fueled our success. Celebrating our employees’ success in their home and work lives helps us do that … and we have a lot of fun doing it!