Seed World

Investments Made in Employees Never Depreciate

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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Companies have been challenged to maintain full staffing levels the past two years. Large numbers of work-eligible adults have not returned to the workforce, and the trend doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.  

A common response has been additional investments in infrastructure that reduce the need for positions that can be automated. The new wage rates put more of these projects in the black, and company spending on capital increased. We did this too. We are installing automated ear corn sorters on one of the husk/sort lines at our Howe, Ind., seed corn production facility and we are also upgrading it with new husking beds. This same project didn’t pencil out two years ago, but with an increase in seasonal labor costs and decrease in availability, it certainly does now.

However, the past few months have put pressure on this strategy too, as capital costs have increased at an astounding rate.

This was one of the scenarios we examined during our annual management team meeting in March 2021. What could we do to be prepared for this possible, post-COVID future? How could we continue to grow despite these possible headwinds?

Our solution was to launch our largest and most comprehensive investment ever into our current team members. The program was called Mission 2021, and its goal was to enhance the employee experience and deeply engage them in setting the future direction for training, benefits and improving job satisfaction and retention. It started with conducting “stay interviews” with almost every full-time and some key part-time employees. The responses and recommendations were reviewed, and several ideas were (and continue to be) been put into action across the Gro Alliance network.

In 2022, we expanded Mission 2021 to launch a company-wide coaching program. Over the next three years, every full-time Gro Alliance employee will participate in an individualized program to improve skills in emotional intelligence, communication, leadership and critical thinking. The first round was just completed and included most of our management team members, even me! We all recognize that despite our success, we can certainly improve as leaders.  

The message is “Get Ready to Get Better!” 

This investment won’t depreciate. The new ear corn sorters and husking beds will reduce costs, improve safety and increase throughput. But over time, the value will lessen as the machines will need increased maintenance and repairs.  

Team investments grow in value. Creating this shared coaching experience will increase their connectivity and improve performance across every interaction we have with their co-workers, our clients, growers, suppliers and local community.

Whether you’ve had a long history with Gro Alliance or are meeting us for the first time, our goal is for you to both see and feel this improvement. I truly believe our team is one of the best in the business. With these new company-wide investments we aim to improve a team that is second to none and give our clients that same experience.