Farmland Case Study

FarmlandLogoHelping Farmland Industries Bring Home the Bacon

Farmland Industries, now owned by Smithfield Foods, was the largest agricultural cooperative in North America. Veteran executive Jim Rainey was brought in from the outside as the new CEO, charged with the task of returning this agribusiness giant to profitability.

Resuscitating a giant is always a mammoth undertaking, and this would be an especially tough challenge. Farmland’s business units—ranging from fertilizer and pork processing to grain, petroleum refining, and ag chemicals—were test enough. But the nature of Farmland’s federated structure was a mixed blessing: the company was owned by more than 2,000 local associations or “co-ops” in 19 states. Because these same 2,000 local co-ops were also Farmland’s primary customers, a natural conflict of interest ensued. As owners, the co-ops wanted high profits. As customers, they wanted low prices.

Farmland was hemorrhaging from operating losses.

CEO Rainey engaged Duncan Worldwide to help.

Here’s what we did for Farmland:

  • Conducted an organization-wide culture assessment, including dozens of interviews and focus groups and a custom-tailored survey of Farmland’s 16,000 employees.
  • Provided 360-degree performance feedback to the top 300 leaders and managers in the company.
  • Introduced a special training program in leadership skills. With the assistance of several Farmland people whom we certified to deliver the training, this three-day program (with follow up) was provided for several thousand Farmland employees.
  • WantToCanDoUsed our CHANGE-friendly IMPLEMENTATION protocol to address culture change and performance improvement issues. In particular, with our Want To-Can Do Model as a guide, we –
    • Linked certain activities, such as performance reviews, to employee values like personal accomplishment.
    • Reduced the gap between what Farmland people knew they should do and what they actually knew how to do.
    • Showed Farmland people how to enlist the support of each other. This involved having leaders and supervisors team up with colleagues to provide informal coaching and encouragement, which increased personal accountability for results.
    • Improved collaboration between and among department and divisions. This helped eliminate duplication of effort and greatly enhanced creativity in solving operations challenges.
    • Focused on specific behaviors. We explicitly defined desired behaviors—along with the behaviors that did not produce good results. This helped reinforce personal accountability.
    • We made it easy. Farmland’s systems and processed had been bloated and often redundant. We helped employees go on a “bureaucracy diet” to make it easier to conduct business with both their internal and external stakeholders.

The result? In only 12 months Farmland posted a $215 million improvement in profits and put itself on a trajectory to high performance. The turnaround became a case study at the Harvard Business School.

Said CEO Jim Rainey: “By helping our people work smarter, Duncan Worldwide played an integral role in Farmland’s dramatic improvement.”

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