Vulgamore Farms in southwest Kansas has participated in a peer group since 2011. Brian Vulgamore admits he was initially skeptical of the value of joining such a group. A friend invited them repeatedly, so Brian sent a key employee to check it out, thinking it wasn't worth his time. That employee returned home fired up and convinced him and his brother, Myles, to participate. Since then, they've formed deep bonds within the group.
When asked what information he's found valuable to share among members, Brian has a list you'd expect; comparing employee compensation packages, grain facility layouts, H2A program implementation, input comparisions, landowner relations, etc. But the most impactful learning for Vulgamore Farms has been how to build a strong culture for their employee team and how to deploy the team effectively. With over 40 team members in their diversified farm operation, optimizing that performance is significant. For example, on one visit to a peer group member's farm, they saw the importance of consistent staff meetings and then decided to implement them. Brian says, "Now the idea of not having that weekly meeting and an informal daily meeting at breakfast to touch base seems ridiculous to us." They also modeled their new office on a group member's office to reinforce the culture of collaboration they want.
"Duringthe interactions with other members' employees when we visited their farms, it became obvious the strength of each farm operation was in their people. We've become more intentional about creating a healthy culture in our operation because of it, " Brian explained. And the knowledge and encouragment to keep improving people managment skills came uniquely from the peer group. "I can get agronomy and financial advice from numerous outlets, but it's more difficult to find experts in how to manage a large farm. Being able to compare notes with peers going through the same challenges has proven invaluable."
How does one get the most out of peer group participation? Brian stressed three things:
- Have open doors for peers to understand you better. That provides context for them to give ongoing input in conversations for months and years to come. It's not always an 'aha' moment at the meeting itself.
- Invite your peers to call you on your bull. Those you have relationships with are in the best position to hold you accountable to your goals - even when the message may be a though one to hear.
- And finally, don't let your ego get in the way. If you think you have it all figured out, a peer group probably isn't the right place for you.
Vulgamore Farms looks forward to continuing to learn from and with their trusted group of peers.