Sunny

Sunny

max temp: 20°C

min temp: 14°C

ESTD 1874 Search

NFU Comment: Matt Swain on how ‘soft’ skills can help a farm business survive

11:34 24 August 2014

NFU columnist Matt Swain.

NFU columnist Matt Swain.

When I lived “up north” there was an expression “gone soft”, and it was certainly not a compliment.

shares

Boys would do anything to avoid such an accusation, as it struck right at the core of what we perceived manliness to be.

Working on farms from an early age re-enforced my notions of such; the ability to move heavy objects, work long hours and not show weakness were all held to be virtues.

Conversely, the ability to build relationships or to cope with feelings was not on the radar and, therefore, at best, our skills in this area lay dormant. This probably wouldn’t matter to a farming business if all we needed for profitability was to turn in 10 tonnes of wheat or 12,000 litres of milk.

Unfortunately today, due to diversification, we are becoming far more reliant on direct customer contact. I suspect that, for many farmers, the survival of the farm itself relies upon the added value that only customers can bring. But customers are savvy and demand excellent customer service, which relies on the very skills not developed, collectively referred to as, you guessed it, “soft skills”.

In 2003, I went around the world studying these things and found it far harder than I thought. Empathy, sensitivity and tact were words I’d heard my wife use at me (always in the negative) but what did they mean?

The more I learned the more complex it seemed but I stuck with it, if only to understand how Starbucks turned a 30p cup of coffee into a £3 experience. Ten years on and I run courses in these things for farmers who want more of the £3 and less the 30p.

It’s great fun, mainly because I’ve been there − trying to understand why acknowledging a feeling is not the same as admitting there’s a problem, or why customer feedback is always positive, or why failure is important for growth.

I confess that working with this “soft” stuff is equally rewarding because it spills over into farming in general. Succession planning, land disputes and family feuds all have a far better outcome when you understand human needs. I was running a course in Shropshire recently on customer relationships but most of the questions I was asked began with “My wife...” or “My son...”. And when I give presentations to farming groups is not unusual for the questions to go on for hours.

Of course we are farmers and we can’t directly talk about loneliness, uncertainty etc. but we hedge around long enough that we can get some resolution. And then the penny drops that this is precisely what pre-occupies our customer thoughts and feelings and just where Starbucks makes the extra £2.70 − by providing the significance, the variety, the connection and so on.

It’s no surprise that commerce in general is obsessed with human relations since it is seen as the new key to competitive advantage. It has also spawned another industry, coaching, and I spend more and more of my time doing this very thing. It seems a far cry from those early ideas of manliness. In fact it’s fair to say the lad’s gone soft.

: : NFU member Matt Swain farms in north east Essex and is a Nuffield Scholar. To contact him, email farmbusiness@aol.com

shares

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other East Anglian Daily Times visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by East Anglian Daily Times staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique East Anglian Daily Times account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Lord Deben John Gummer, Christine Block, from Deben Estuary Partnership, Karen Thomas, from Water Management Alliance, Graham Henderson, from DEP, Simon Amstutz, from AONB, Therese Coffey MP, David Kemp from the Environment Agency, and Suffolk Coastal District Councillor Andy Smith gathered to launch the Deben Estuary Plan.

Three years of work have created a new community-led blueprint to protect and manage one of Suffolk’s treasures, the River Deben estuary

Detectives investigating a burglary at a home in Colchester have issued an efit of a man they would like to identify in connection with the incident.

Age UK is looking for volunteers to take part in a video

Bosses at Age UK Suffolk are looking for 10 older people to take part in a new promotional video that is being made to show off the work of the charity.

Andrew Gaskell, who was almost totally paralised in a scrum accident playing for Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club in 1998, lost body hair in a bid to raise £5.500 for a standing wheelchair.

A former Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club player who was partially paralysed in a scrum accident 17 years ago has gone for the smooth-bodied look in a bid to raise more than £5,000 for a specialist piece of equipment.

An Abellio Greater Anglia train at Colchester

Rail delays at Colchester have been caused by a broken down train.

Rendlesham Care Centre rated ‘good’ by CQC (L-R) Danielle Brown, Administrator; Liz Slight, Home Manager; Maxine Crisp, Carer; Fabian Lossa, Carer; Rachael Last, Receptionist

Rendlesham Care Centre was found to provide a safe, effective, caring, responsive and well-led service according to the CQC report.

A diversion has been put in place

Severe traffic delays in Chelmsford have been caused by a traffic collision.

Woodbridge Carnival fireworks 2015.

People in an east Suffolk town are being asked to vote with their cash if they want a fireworks display next year.

Station Hill in Bury St Edmunds, which is being redeveloped.

Plans for more than 100 flats near the train station in Bury St Edmunds - an area of the town that is earmarked for regeneration - have been recommended to be refused.

Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey (centre) with members of her team and Fern Howard (left) from the Alzheimer’s Society

It follows a visit by the Alzheimer’s Society, who run the Dementia Friends scheme, to help Dr Coffey and her staff understand the effect of dementia on everyday lives.

Most read

Most commented

Topic pages