By Anthony O’Brien
In May 2016 DuPont Pioneer announced an agreement for Philip Yates Family Holdings Limited (PYFH) to acquire its Pioneer Australia Seeds (PAS) business.
This acquisition included the production, sales, marketing and distribution of the Pioneer® brand, one of Australia’s most prominent producers and distributors of corn, sorghum, summer forage and canola seeds, and silage inoculant products to farmers in Australia.
As part of the new ownership arrangement, GenTech Seeds Pty Ltd was formed and is now the exclusive producer and distributor of Pioneer® brand products in Australia. They have extensive research facilities in Toowoomba, Queensland as well as locations across southern Australia. There is also a manufacturing plant in Narromine in Central NSW, where seeds are cleaned, treated, sized and bagged. The rapidly expanding firm employs a national staff of 90, including a team of sales managers located all over Australia.
Identifying and training new leaders
To support the business growth of GenTech Seeds, the firm recently launched a talent development program. “One aspect of this program was to further develop the leadership skills of our new and emerging leaders,” says Melanie McGrath, National HR & HSE Manager, GenTech Seeds. “We wanted to give them insights and self-awareness of their current leadership skills, tools for developing themselves as leaders, as well as frameworks for leading and managing others.”
Given the logistics and expense of gathering its geographically scattered team into one location, McGrath determined the course had to have a healthy ROI and be transferable to the workplace. “The course needed to be highly relevant and practical, but also have specific and measurable activities that would embed the learning back in the workplace.”
Building strong foundations
After an extensive review of providers, McGrath chose IML ANZ because its Foundations Program could be adapted to suit GenTech’s timing and the geographical spread of its employees.
The Foundations Program is a 12-week development program that uses a blended methodology with face-to-face days, coaching, mentoring and online learning. The Foundations Program supports the transformation of emerging leaders from technical specialists to impactful management professionals and intentional leaders. Available to seasoned supervisors, newly promoted managers or mid-career leaders, the program aims to develop techniques that enable course participants to lead productive, motivated and engaged teams.
McGrath said the ability to customise the Foundations Program was a significant appeal. “We didn’t have to join a public group, and IML ANZ came to us in Toowoomba, and our interstate people flew in from all over Australia and had a couple of days onsite. We completed the training in three sessions over three months.”
Identifying future leaders and their needs
McGrath said that within the company’s talent development program, managers fell into two broad categories. “There were a few existing managers with some targeted areas that they could work on,” McGrath recalls. “Then there was also an extensive group of people who were new to managing people, new to the company or had the potential to become a new manager.”
Apart from leadership development, McGrath said the IML ANZ program aimed to enable participants to have self-awareness of their skillsets and to hone their emotional intelligence. “Our participants undertook surveys to determine how their colleagues saw them in relation to their skillsets, which gave us a starting point for the training.”
McGrath continues, “From a senior management perspective, we wanted to equip our future managers with the tools where they could say to themselves, ‘I could use a team agreement and mission statement to enhance team efficiency and direction’. The skills needed to be relevant and transferable.”
For example, several agronomists who were new to management were presented with the SCARF Model (see box for details) through the Foundations Program training. The agronomists based across regional NSW, are responsible for seed production.
McGrath says, “These agronomists are technical experts but had little people management exposure. Once they completed the training and went back to their jobs, one of the most useful learnings they took with them was the relevance of the SCARF model,” says McGrath.
The new SCARF acolytes gathered their production teams together. They ran information sessions with the teams about the neuroscience model, what it can help them achieve, and how it can assist contacts with farmers and growers. The SCARF model encouraged the agronomists to pause before contacting a grower to consider what they were trying to achieve and how their message would be received.
McGrath explains, “The agronomist might say, ‘I’m encouraging a farmer to grow several 100 hectares of seed for us.’ At this point, I must consider what’s the motivation for them? Why would they want to help us? And then how do I communicate to their needs as opposed to us trying to pitch to them based on what we want?
“This is how our new agronomist managers benefited from the IML ANZ program. It gave them tools to upscale themselves and their teams.”
Bringing all GenTech’s future leaders together enabled the seed company to foster the cross-pollination (no pun intended) of ideas across business units. McGrath explains, “We thought it best to pull our leaders together. Gathering our leaders into one room enables us to ensure they are all using a common language, and to start removing any silos within the business.
“Our staff are pretty good at working across functions, but one of the outcomes of the Foundations Program was for more collaboration between people from distribution, production, sales, finance, IT and research.
“Hardly any of the team who took the program work together on a daily basis. More cross-pollination was an outcome we were looking for, and the program has achieved this goal.”
Already awareness of the challenges faced by other business units have improved, according to McGrath, who started measuring the impact of the Foundations Program in February 2020. Anecdotally, McGrath has also identified more communication across the teams since the completion of the training in October. “Now there’s a better appreciation across the teams that: ‘Oh, I didn’t realise you had to do all of that just to get the seed in the bag’.”
Peter Kleinhanss, Director and CEO, GenTech Seeds adds, “Ever since the training started, I have heard that the team gels so well together and has continued to evolve.
“It is a special thing to have happen for a group of likeminded, positive and creative people across different parts of the business to have that type of relationship. I have no doubt that the Leadership class of 2019 will have a long legacy in the business.”
After each phase of the three-month program, McGrath says it was exciting to see the buzz and energy the program created. “The tools and concepts provided by the Foundations Program were immediately applicable back to the work context.”
Since the completion of the Foundations Program, all participants are either leading a project at GenTech or are part of cross-functional project teams aiming to deliver business improvements. “For example, a salesperson might be working with someone in production to work out the capacity of our grain storage and how we improve it,” says McGrath.
“Others are now working on projects addressing how we will meet future targets. For instance, if our business grows by 20%, do we have the infrastructure, people, and technology to be able to support that growth?”
McGrath maintains the Foundations Program, “met all of our objectives and I would highly recommend it and the talented facilitator Jacqui Perkins, to other businesses looking to develop their leadership pipeline.
“We had access to an incredibly engaging and knowledgeable presenter, who was as focused as I was on the transferability of the training back into the workplace.
“I would highly recommend that – before deciding on course providers – you attend a workshop run by the course presenter to ensure their skills, knowledge and delivery style suit your business needs.”