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Talent Management Blog
March 15
Advancing Your Degree With Ease


I utilized the GROWMARK Tuition Aid Program to complete my MBA at Illinois State University from 2014 to 2016.  I had not really considered obtaining an advanced degree after receiving my bachelor's degree in 2012, but after learning that GROWMARK offered a Tuition reimbursement program, I decided to look into it. I eventually decided to get my Master's degree on a part-time basis.

The approval and submission process for reimbursement for the program was simple.  All I needed to do was fill out a form at the beginning each semester with the courses I was planning to take, and gain approval from my supervisor and division manager.  Then, at the end of each semester, I submitted the same form, but with my grade and billing information included.  I received a reimbursement for the courses I took on my next paycheck. To make it even more convenient, the money was automatically deposited into my primary bank account that was already on file for my paycheck. 

I was grateful to receive the reimbursement each semester, to help pay for the following semester.  The program gave me the opportunity to continue my education, and do so without any debt or financial worries.  I was motivated to do well in my classes not only for personal achievement goals, but also to make sure I was reimbursed for the courses. The GROWMARK Tuition Aid Program made an advanced degree affordable for me, and I'd recommend that other employees utilize this fantastic opportunity that is offered!


By: Madison Ruff

February 28
Basketball Acumen?
​​We're in the middle of basketball season with all kinds of games.  Age group, grade school, junior high, high school, college, ​professional games, intercity games, county tournaments, conference tournaments, state playoffs, March Madness, and NBA Playoffs.​

As a spectator, do you ever see a player who has great court awareness?

  • They are efficient in many aspects of the game:  offense, defense, passing, rebounding, or assists.
  • Their court presence lets them know where their teammates and opponents are on the court. 
  • They know the game, anticipating how their skills will impact the game.
  • Their court awareness lets them make better decisions.

​What kind of players do you enjoy watching?   My favorite player was Michael Jordan.  Michael Jordan had great basketball acumen, yes acumen. 

The word acumen is most often applied to the business world, hence "business acumen".  Business Acumen is having an awareness of what's happening inside a company.  It's the ability to make good judgments that benefit the operatio​​ns of the company, specifically the financial impact.  Increasing business acumen can help anticipate the ripple effects and impact of decisions, in relying on experience, knowledge, and skills. 

We all need to anticipate the ripple effects of our jobs and the business decisions we make.  Try to increase your acumen within your company by learning more about your job and how it fits within the financial statements.  Improve your awareness of what is going on around you and make better business decisions by increasing your business acumen.

By: Greg DeGraaf​

February 15
Making Your Mark in the GROWMARK System

​Earlier in my GROWMARK career, Jim Spradlin explained to me the best way to showcase your leadership abilities and advance your career is to "leave your mark on the organization." At the time Jim was my supervisor in Agronomy and he has since become the CEO of GROWMARK. Those words have really stuck with me and I think about them often. I have since realized this "mark" can be outside of your job description. So, a few years ago I began seeking out additional opportunities in which I could "make my mark" on GROWMARK. 

It began when I was invited to join GROWMARK's Diversity and Inclusion initiative. What started as a think tank, turned into a task force with me serving as a co-chair because of my personal interest and the time and effort I was willing to invest. About that time, I learned of an opportunity with the IAA Credit Union's board. I had inquired previously and learned the board consisted of employees from the IAA Family of Companies. After getting involved on the board, my desire to make an impact led me to serve as the chairperson. More recently, I was asked and accepted an opportunity to join a GROWMARK advisory committee which helps navigate the balance between the need for information security and employee productivity with systems and processes.

Leadership comes in a variety of forms beyond holding a specific job title or being a supervisor. Sometimes being willing to take on additional responsibilities, outside of your position, department, or even company, is a great measure of your traits and capability as a leader. There are multiple variations of the phrase "say yes and figure the rest out later." While I don't believe this is a great rule to live by without question, remember stretch assignments and opportunities will not appear every day or forever into the future. I highly encourage all employees to think strongly before just simply responding with "no, I don't have time" when an opportunity presents itself.


By: Jeff Frank

January 30
Applying More Discipline to Your Development Needs

 “Employee development doesn’t happen inside one’s mind”

Learning is not the same as growing.  Learning becomes growth only when it is applied, practiced and sustained over time and in new situations.  Understanding the purpose of learning is just as important as understanding that learning must occur.  A KEY fundamental of learning is cultivating and growing new skills to ensure you are meeting the workplace challenges of today AND tomorrow.    Without a focus on developing defined knowledge, skills and abilities (aligned to business drivers and a competency model) a path to greater achievement becomes unclear.  Skill building is a behavior, and behaviors change by learning new skills or adjusting old ones to conquer new challenges.  Competencies are the language of leadership/employee development, and are a key tool to help employees better understand where to focus their training activities. 

It is important to remember that formal training alone isn't going to drive development if you aren't actively engaged in practicing and implementing skills learned in the classroom back in the workplace.  Formal classroom training does not create more skilled employees.  It simply focuses, and brings to light, what you need to learn and develop in order to be a better and more effective employee.

The goal in leadership/employee development is NOT to achieve complete mastery over a skill, but to build enough capacity and understanding to apply that skill back in the workplace.  This practice will ultimately lead to the mastery of certain skills and behaviors that have a positive impact inside the workplace. 

A common challenge we see in our formal training programs is that when employees move into new roles, they rely on old skills and behaviors to do a new job.  With the new position, they are unclear of what they need to focus on.  Their development goals become nonspecific with no ties to learning outcomes which can lead to a stall in development, and frustration in the new role. 

A clear understanding of what knowledge, skills, behaviors and abilities are needed to perform effectively in one's current position is an imperative part of training.  Becoming clear about what training you need, when you need it and how to apply it back in the workplace will ultimately lead to greater satisfaction and personal growth as an employee.  As the great book titled, "What Got You Here, Won't Get You There (Goldsmith)" states, having a clear understanding of your development needs will ultimately help you achieve success.

Understanding Your Development Needs – Where to Start

How do you ensure you're building the right skill set for your current position and for future opportunities?  The key to answering this question is to identify what skills and abilities you need to develop, obtain an understanding of how to improve them, and then implement.  It is as easy as 1-2-3.

Step 1: What skills do I really need to understand or develop to be more effective in my job?  Taking the time to asses where you are in terms of skill development is important.  Be honest with yourself about where you need help and what you need to do to improve.  Your manager should be involved in the conversation to help coach and guide you in terms of where they see potential deficiencies, competencies and skills you need to focus on.  Once you understand what you need to improve, you can move to step 2.

Step 2: Based on your understanding of what you need to improve to drive your growth, determine what competencies you want to focus on and create a plan of action on HOW you are going to learn these new skills.  Creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP) can be a powerful tool to help you formalize this process.  You may need to take a formal training class to obtain a better understanding of how a particular skill should be used in the workplace.  If that is the case, then by all means attend a training class!  Remember, training is often a very small piece of your development.  Consider what else you might do at work to help grow your skills.  Experiential learning is a concept that has proven very valuable in helping employees grow on the job, gain invaluable experience and learn from mistakes.  What is experiential learning?  It is a method of educating through first-hand experience.  Skills, knowledge and experience are acquired outside of the traditional training setting, and may include the following:

    • Reshape your job.  Add new responsibilities to your job on a more or less permanent basis. These could be responsibilities moved from your boss to you (or exchanged among peers). Or, they may be responsibilities that no one currently owns in your group or organization.  Another way of reshaping your job is to focus more on an aspect of your work that is not receiving the attention it needs.
    • Take on a temporary assignment.  Seek out tasks or responsibilities that are bound by time: projects, task forces, one-time events or assignments that can be rotated among team members.
    • Seek challenges outside the workplace.  Take on leadership responsibilities in community, nonprofit, religious, social or professional organizations.
    • Make more decisions.  Place yourself in a position in meetings to make more decisions or be a part of a committee or group decision making process.
    • Get involved on a committee.  Nothing will grow you more as a leader than working with a group towards a common goal, but with different ideas on how to achieve it!
    • Stretch yourself.  If you want to develop a specific skill set and your job does not allow you to do so, ask your manager to help you find an opportunity to develop that specific skill, either in your current role (add responsibilities) or by tackling new responsibilities.

Once you have created an IDP and begun to implement experiential learning in the workplace you are ready for step 3!​

​Step 3: How are you doing?  Work with your manager to ensure that you are applying what you have learned, and understand the mistakes that you are making and why you are making them.  Confirm that you are continuing to focus on the skills you want to improve.  Reviewing your IDP regularly with your manager is a great way to ensure that learning transfer is taking place.  By understanding what you need to do to improve as an employee, you can be assured that your growth will continue. 

By: Andy Schuster

January 15
Passion forms its own path

​I always knew my true passion was to serve others, but I had no idea where to begin finding a career path where I could make a big impact.  Here are four tips that are continually on my mind as I navigate my life and career.


1. Always Stay Curious

I had no idea what I wanted to do. When I was in Kindergarten, I recall very vividly wanting to be a mad scientist when I grew up. I thought each of these would be my career path at one point of my life: farmer, youth pastor, DEC officer, soldier. I researched and explored just about any career path that sounded good to me; I wanted to find my place. I knew I loved the outdoors and I knew that I wanted to make a difference. (Pretty cliché, I know).  Eventually I discovered that agriculture was the perfect fit for what I was looking for. With the help of a family friend, (who to this day continues to be a career mentor for me) I found my life calling. 


2. Take Risks

I needed a summer job and applied for a Seed Research Technician position at GROWMARK FS. I had zero industry experience, but I was ambitious. I had an insatiable desire to get out of my comfort zone, take risks, and succeed. I was hired and had an amazing summer with my first true exposure to agriculture. I was originally studying Criminal Justice at Buffalo State College, but ended up transferring into Morrisville State College's Agricultural Business Development B.B.A. program after that first summer. I refused to accept that I would be at any disadvantage not having grown up on a farm or having an extensive background in agriculture since this was what I knew I wanted to pursue.


3. Overcome Doubt

Without a traditional agriculture background and with my future goals of getting involved in the farm service sector, I did not want to be ignorant to the fact that I needed to be able to understand my future customers, the growers, and their needs and concerns. I ended up going to a local dairy farm in college and taking a job as a farmhand during my semesters there. Passion forms its own path. If the passion is there, you will be able to find solutions and form a path to be successful. In my case, I leveraged my soft skills, problem solving abilities, and work ethic to be successful in agriculture. Doubt from others (and even from yourself) is imminent if you are pursuing something new. True character reveals itself in the midst of trials like these.


4. Stay the Course

I have held numerous roles in my five and a half years in the GROWMARK System in both New York and Illinois.  I have been an Agronomy Intern, Customer Service Representative in agronomy, and most recently a University Relations Recruiter.  While for some it may look odd going from a technical role to now being in human resources at the corporate office, it made perfect sense to me.  I wanted to become a more well-rounded employee and leverage the skills and experiences I have had to succeed in the company and grow personally and professionally.  This career in agriculture has allowed me to serve others in so many ways, from addressing grower's issues in New York to helping manage the GROWMARK Internship Program and match passions with opportunities. In 2017, I took on a role with GOYA Ministries as an Agricultural Advisory Board Member and Co-leader on my second agriculturally focused mission trip in Nairobi, Kenya and the surrounding areas. Seeing firsthand how what I have learned could help address food security issues and feed starving children has been nothing short of life changing for me. 

If I would have let my concerns and doubts make my decisions for me in my career, I never would have been able to experience a fraction of what I have. Throughout my childhood, I was very unsure of the future, including my future career. I am still unsure of where this career path will take me, but I know that passion forms its own path into amazing opportunities.


By: Luke Martin 

December 30
5 tips to stay productive in the new year

​With the new year just around the corner, lots of us start focusing on the goals we want to set for 2018 and how we plan to achieve them.   To keep you on track as you progress towards your personal and professional goals, here are 5 tips you can use to maintain productivity during the new year:

  1. Explore new technology - For many, it's never an ideal time to learn new tech when there are a million other things you need to do.  What you may not realize is, learning new technology is important.  It helps you stay up to date on new trends, information and tools meant to make your life easier.  As a trainer, keeping up with new tech allows me to try creative new ways to reach my audience.  Consider Snapchat for example.  According to a Bloomberg report, Snapchat videos solicit 10 billion views per day.  This is a great way to spread brand awareness and showcase your culture, employee engagement and any other programs you're proud of.  If you want to see what we're up to in 2018, check out FS GROWMARK on Snapchat!   ​​​
  1. Make a list - The struggle of scatterbrain is real.  To make sure you stay on top of your tasks both at work and home, start making a to-do list.  To manage all the projects and committees I'm working on, along with my personal life, lists have served as a great tool to remind me what needs to be done, and where I need to prioritize my time.  If you need a place to start, check out Todoist.  A popular app that allows you to create, share and edit lists with others in real time. 
  1. Take advantage of the quiet time - While there are benefits in the socialization that comes with an office environment; loads of meetings and the general hubbub that accompanies a shared space can be distracting.  Since the holidays usually mean lots of people cashing in on their time off, the lack of distractions can be sheer bliss for you.  I love taking advantage of this time of year to plan out project work, wrap up loose ends or make some big strides on my 2018 goals.  For help you with your goal setting, planning and progression, check out the Goal Plus app.    
  1. Use your Volunteer Time Off (VTO) - I am proud to work for a company that encourages giving back, and provides employees with opportunities to engage in causes that are meaningful to them.  Take advantage of your company's VTO policy, and give the gift of your time this holiday season.  Aside from the intangible benefits such as pride, satisfaction and the sense of accomplishment that comes with bettering your community; volunteering can also help boost productivity in the workforce.  Volunteering with your colleagues encourages teamwork and collaboration, which are two skills that can improve the overall productivity and effectiveness of your team.  If you are looking for a great teambuilding activity, is a great place your team can go to find a variety of good causes to serve in your community.
  1. Organize your inbox - According to Huffingtonpost, a recent survey disclosed that on average, employees spend 28% of their day on email.  This was the largest amount of time spent on any of the workplace activities surveyed.  To work more efficiently in your email, here are a few features you can try: 
  • Folders - This is a great organization tool I use to move and retain messages. It cleans up my inbox and makes it easier to find saved items.
  • Rules - I love using rules to automate tasks I want Outlook to carry out for me; such as sending emails from a certain sender directly to a specific folder and highlighting items marked urgent so I don't overlook anything important.  
  • Disabling new message notifications - If you can't resist the temptation to check every new email you get notified of, you can easily turn off alerts.  In Outlook, click on the File tab, choose options, select Mail and then uncheck the box next to 'Display a Desktop Alert'.  ​

Do you have any productivity life hacks that you love?  Please share your comments below, I'd love to hear from you!  ​

Cheers to achieving your 2018 goals and wishing you a happy, healthy and joyful new year! ​​


By: ​Brittany Piepenbrink

December 15
'Twas the night before the interview...

​'Twas the night before the interview and all through your brain, ran thoughts of anxiety – will they think I am lame? You want to be prepared but aren't sure what to do. Follow these simple tips and you will breeze right through!

  • Do your research –Check out the company website for information about their business and financials. Most companies are also very active on social media – LinkedIn, Facebook, and even Instagram. Be sure to check out those pages too as they often provide great insights into company culture and current events.
  • Play dress up – Have you ever heard that old adage, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have."? The interview is your opportunity to present your best self, and a crisp, clean, professional looking outfit will help you do just that. No need to go out and buy something new, but be sure you try on the outfit you plan to wear beforehand to make sure it fits and is wrinkle free. Nothing screams "I didn't put that much effort into this interview" like throwing on that old, wrinkled suit you wore to Great Uncle Larry's funeral 10 years, and 20 pounds ago.
  • Go for a test drive – Many companies have large confusing campuses, with multiple parking lots and entrances. If time allows, it's always a great idea to map out your route and go for a test drive in the day or two leading up to your interview. Knowing exactly where you are headed the day of your interview and how long it will take you to get there, will help keep some of those anxious feelings at bay as well as ensure you arrive on time.
  • Practice –Before you meet with the interview team, take some time to research general behavioral interview questions and think about how you might answer those questions if asked. Also, take some time to go through your resume and reflect on your prior experience. Taking a few notes on important accomplishments, projects you've worked on, even difficult situations you've navigated will arm you with great, real world examples of your work to discuss during the interview.
  • Channel your inner detective – An interview is not only a time for the company to learn more about you, but also an opportunity for you to evaluate the company, team and position. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and be inquisitive about anything that interests you. In my experience as a recruiter I have seen interviews go from ho-hum to extraordinary due to the thoughtful questions posed by candidates. These questions can open the door for more in depth conversation and give the interview panel a peak into what is important to you. Fire away!
  • Mind your manners – You may think that sending a thank you note following an interview is passé, but think like Emily Post and always follow up with a thank you. While a handwritten note is nice, it's not required - an email will do the job as well. Taking the time to follow up with your interview panel re-enforces your serious interest in the position while giving you an opportunity to showcase your written communication skills. Also, during a long interview process receiving a note from you is a great way to keep your name top of mind with the hiring manager and recruiter.

With these tips in hand, you will be an interviewing pro. Practice and preparation will make you good to go! And GROWMARK Recruiting, we're here to help you get it just right – wishing prosperous interviews to all and to all a good night!

GROWMARK Recruiting wishes you and your family a wonderful holiday season!

Beth - Happy Holidays.PNG 

By: Beth Fannin

November 30
Lead Me. Coach Me.


Business leaders today have a lot of responsibilities. Not only are you expected to make decisions, deliver results, and manage people, you also have a responsibility to develop those people. The decision and results responsibilities along with human nature drives us to be fixers. When questions, issues and problems come across our plates we are quick to give the answer or fix the problem. However, the development responsibilities require that we stop fixing and do something else. Coach them.

Today's employees (regardless of generation) want coaching. It's one of the greatest tools that a leader has at their disposal for engaging and developing the people that look to them for guidance. Coaching can have significant impact on performance, morale, retention and goes a long way in creating new leaders for the future. Despite all these benefits leaders are not coaching as often as they should. According to a 2016 report from Blessing White, out of 1,800 employees and managers surveyed, only 1/2 received any type of coaching. But why? The main reason managers give, is they don't have enough time to coach. Many leaders feel like coaching is an added behavior they have to do in addition to their daily responsibilities. But it doesn't have to be that way.

As leaders/managers you are already having conversations with your people on a daily basis. What if you could use that time differently, to coach and actually (get some time back for yourself) by just tweaking one little thing? I bet you would do it, wouldn't you? If you would, you want to be a coach. So here's how you do it. Ready? The next time someone comes to you with a question or a problem that they need to solve, instead of giving the answer, ask a question. That's it! "Surely it can't be that simple" you say. But it is. Coaching starts with being curious. Start broad and work your way down to the details. "Tell me more" is a great place to start. You could use a Who/What/Why/When/How question, like "How would you go about solving this." Then probe for details.

  • What else?
  • What could you do differently?
  • What's the impact?

Together you will brainstorm some solutions. Once they employee identifies the solution they are going to move forward with it's important to make sure they take action. Don't leave the conversation without establishing what it is they are going to do and when they are going to do it. This is most important. It provides an element of accountability. By asking great questions leaders can provide an environment for people to find their own solutions and develop themselves to their full potential. By doing so, the person being coached actually becomes more self-sufficient, creative and a better problem solver. 

Finally, to make this a part of your daily routine, you have to create a coaching habit. What I mean by that is you have to identify the behavior you want to create (asking questions instead of giving answers) and put a plan in place to practice and implement that behavior. Michael Bungay Stanier has a great book about this called The Coaching Habit. In it, he lays out a plan for you to create a habit of coaching that can be done simply and on a regular basis without adding time to your already busy schedule. I encourage you to check it out. 


By: Andy King

November 15
Black Friday and Black Holes

​It's 4:00 a.m. on Black Friday and you are up with the rest of the other manic shoppers trying to be first in line to get that hot gift of the season at a remarkably low price. There you are, face pressed up against the glass just hoping for a chance with hundreds of people behind you hoping for the same. The doors open and everyone starts pouring in, but you find out that hot gift you have been looking for is sold out so the store gives you a rain check. Before you know it, New Year's rolls around and you still haven't heard anything.

Looking for a new job can be just like Black Friday. You spend hours of your time prepping, revising your resume, and hoping you beat out all the other hopefuls. You hold your breath and hit submit on the application and then…..nothing. It's frustrating and you have to wonder if you are the latest victim of the HR black hole. You know, the one where you submit an application and hear nothing back. What can you do?

  • Don't be afraid to reach out to the recruiter on the position. If you have the recruiter's email address, great! If you don't, check them out on LinkedIn and send them a message. Let them know you applied and ask where they're at in the process. Seriously, it's perfectly okay to reach out.

  • Networking – Everyone loves to suggest it, but people rarely do it. Get out there and get connected with people in your industry and with recruiters at companies you would love to work for! It's a lot easier to reach out to someone you've met than to reach out cold. Bonus: This is also a great way to hear about amazing jobs opening up that you might be interested in!

  • Before ever submitting your application, make sure you've read the job description and that you are qualified for the position. Then, edit your cover letter and resume to include some of the same keywords from the job description that highlight clearly that you are a match!     

In the end, you deserve a response of some kind once you submit your interest in a position. Good recruiters aren't purposely leaving you in a black hole; they may just need a nudge from you. Don't let anyone "rain check" you when it comes to your professional future and your aspirations.


By: Megan Peterson

October 18
Creating something better together

Hello! Welcome to the GROWMARK, Inc. Talent Management blog. We have a mission to improve transparency between the recruiting and training teams and the public. In an effort to improve our communication to the outside world, we have created this blog. Here are a few topics you can expect to find on our blog in the future months to come:

  • Interview, resume, and cover letter tips
  • Keys to effective networking
  • Topics driven from current events, seasons, and holidays
  •  How our company diversity and inclusion efforts are progressing
  • Info about employee training programs
  • How technology and social media are used  to keep employees engaged
  • Advice during a challenging job hunt process

We are thrilled to bring this blog to life and committed to motivate you toward improvement in all professional pursuits. If you have a request regarding a certain topic you would like to know more about, please either comment on our blog postings or reach out to us at! Our subject matter experts are eager to respond to any questions you may have!


By: Tori Streitmatter

Career Management
Employee Development
Interview Tips
Job Searching
Personal Development
Resume & Cover Letter Writing
Social Media

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