Dr. Kohl: Critical Thinking Through Core Values
Dr. Dave Kohl
grain falling into a container
Ag Economist Dr Dave KohlFarm and business tours provide a great vantage point to observe business principles and concepts in action. Recent visits to two agribusinesses and farms in North Carolina and central New York were relevant in applying critical thinking to established, written core values.

Both of the family-owned and -operated businesses engaged in the necessary steps to establish written core values. Each business established six to seven one-word values including excellence, humility, respect, candor, integrity, work ethic, profitability and sustainability. What was so impressive was how these values were used in strategic and day-to-day business decision-making.

One business had separate managers for the crop, livestock, human resources and management divisions of the business. The core values were used by these managers to eliminate unproductive and unethical employees. In one case, reporting to work on a timely basis and tardiness was an issue with a few employees. The manager referred to the written core values, which were posted in highly traveled areas of the business, as a means of dismissal. The lack of work ethic and respect for fellow team members was apparent. In the North Carolina business, an employee dismissal resulted in a family member of the owner being given their walking papers.

From a strategic standpoint, the core value of candor was referred to in discussions relating to expansion. Both the owners and managers were able to discuss the positive and negative sides of the expansion equation and the unintended consequences in an objective, safe environment. Critical thinking was then incorporated into a detailed expansion proposal submitted to their agricultural lender, which was well received. In today's world of access through technology, pausing to reflect on core values provides peace of mind and the necessary objectivity in an emotional business environment.

In addition to providing the opportunity to view how core values affect critical thinking, the business tours also yielded some other interesting observations. During the tour, one of the owners was connecting with every employee and this business employed over 80 people! The nonverbal communication from the employees indicated their respect for the owners, which led me to believe that the owner’s connection with their employees was real.

Another business demonstrated respect and humility in a subtle way with nice soccer fields and basketball courts for the employees, management team and owners. They established a league and playoffs with other agribusinesses in the region. Sometimes improving business culture returns much more than monetary outcomes.

Dr. Kohl is Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Finance and Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr. Kohl has traveled over 8 million miles throughout his professional career and has conducted more than 6,000 workshops and seminars for agricultural groups such as bankers, Farm Credit, FSA, and regulators, as well as producer and agribusiness groups. He has published four books and over 1,300 articles on financial and business-related topics in journals, extension, and other popular publications.

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