By Matt Reese
Whether it is with an individual, a farm or an agribusiness, breakthroughs (some large and some small) are helpful along the path to long-term success.
Breakthroughs were the focus at the 2019 Kalmbach Feeds Agribusiness Conference. At the event, president Paul Kalmbach defined a breakthrough as an intentional life-changing accomplishment that is larger than an incremental improvement.
“We have been very fortunate to have had a lot of breakthroughs,” Kalmbach said. “And one of the great things about breakthroughs is that while they don’t often keep on giving, they do often program more breakthroughs. It really is an important concept.”
He then shared his equation for a breakthrough: Failure + Vision + Understanding + Creativity = Breakthrough.
“Can we think differently? If we can do that, we create more breakthroughs in our businesses and in our lives,” Kalmbach said. “We have to understand where we want to go and what we want to accomplish. That will produce breakthroughs. And more often than not, that type of achievement is the result of a team effort.”
In the feed business there have been various product-related breakthroughs for Kalmbach Feeds since their days as a small grind-and-mix feed mill in 1963. The feed, though, is only a piece of the puzzle for success. Without good people, a top-quality product can only go so far.
“We are always looking for new team members. Often when I pray before I go to bed at night, I ask the Good Lord to bring us good team members,” Kalmbach said. “We need good team members and have fantastic team members now. I couldn’t choose a better team. I love the folks we get to work with every day.”
Getting the human resources of Kalmbach Feeds to today’s level of success took many breakthroughs through the years. Kalmbach shared one of them in his remarks at the Agribusiness Conference.
About 25 years ago Kalmbach Feeds was facing a real challenge with driver turnover.
“It was equal to the national average and that was unacceptable at Kalmbach Feeds,” Kalmbach said. “We had an inefficient process for our drivers. They had to write down everything they did as well as how long it took them to do it and they were paid hourly.”
The high turnover and inefficient process caused significant internal conflict within the management team. One set of problems built upon another.
“We had lots of internal conflict. It was terrible,” Kalmbach said. “We were concerned about how all of this could affect customer service.”
Vision, understanding and creativity
One initial thought was to simply give the drivers a raise, but that would not seem to address the root causes of the problem.
“We had to solve this in a new — in a different — way to significantly reduce turnover, decrease internal conflict, and program success with customer service,” Kalmbach said. “So we had the vision, now we needed the understanding. We talked to our drivers, we talked to our managers, we talked to transportation companies, and we talked to friends. Some transportation companies were paying drivers per mile. That wouldn’t work for us because our drivers do so much more than just drive. We took that idea and said, ‘You know, why don’t we pay our drivers for everything they do?’ So we decided to try to pay our drivers for driving a mile, we pay our drivers for loading a ton of feed, we pay our drivers for unloading a ton of feed, we pay our drivers for loading a bag, for unloading a bag, we pay them depending on the equipment they drive, and we even decided to pay our drivers for time they weren’t working in the middle of the day if it was beyond their control.”
The Kalmbach Feeds management team presented the plan to their drivers, unsure of how they would react.
“Our four best senior drivers refused to go on the new plan. We compromised and said that they could stay hourly and did not have to go on the new plan. Fortunately the rest of the drivers went on the new plan,” Kalmbach said. “We have a saying in our shop that results matter. What were the results? Two years later we had significantly reduced the driver turnover problem. Our drivers were more efficient because we paid them for what they did. We eliminated the internal conflict, and we programmed more success with our customer service. Those four senior drivers had missed out on pay because they didn’t go on the new plan because they were very efficient drivers. They realized this and quickly chose to go on the new plan.”
The program continues to work today amid challenging times for hiring and keeping good drivers.
“That was a great breakthrough for us, and it keeps on giving. In the United States in 2019 we right now are in the midst of the worst driver shortage in history and this breakthrough has kept on giving,” Kalmbach said. “Our driver turnover is very low.”
This year’s conference theme was part of a series of topics focused on development for Kalmbach Feeds customers and team members over the last several years.
“We started this journey in 2016 with a theme of Vision 2020,” Kalmbach said. “In 2017 the theme was the Leadership Edge. In 2018 the theme was Persistence, because that is the key to success in business. In 2019, if we follow that progression we want to break through our barriers to help us thrive in our business and not just survive. And we are going to celebrate the wins in 2020 because that is important.”
The conference has proven to be a great outreach tool for customers but also helps build a positive and cohesive culture in the company.
“It has been a fun journey. We had a vision for what the conference could be, and it has gotten better every year,” said Jeff Neal, vice president of sales and marketing for Kalmbach Feeds. “The main focus of the conference is overall improvement and overall development. We are always looking for great talent. It is hard to win the Super Bowl if you do not have great talent. This is a great place to work. It is a great family business. We have had 56 years of success.”
Such success has required more than a few breakthroughs along the way.
This is the second of a series of five stories in cooperation with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association highlighting human resource management solutions in Ohio agribusinesses.