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June 15
Changing Direction Leads to Discovering a Passion

​Careers take twists and turns making your professional experience a path unique to you based on your aspirations and experiences.

While in college I was told, "Your degree will help you get placed in your first job – after that it will be based on your experiences." At first, I was unsure how this was possible due to my degree being the career path I was wanting to take. I knew the skillset it equipped me with prepared me to take on a communication based career. However, as my career path began to evolve the above statement has never been more true. GROWMARK has a variety of positions available across multiple facets of business. No matter the position you are in, you are developing valuable transferrable skills to prepare you to take on your next career move. Transferrable skills can be applied whether you are in accounting, energy, agronomy, etc. If you find an area interesting, talk with the team currently in place and learn more about it. Determine the skillset you need to develop that could be applied to a similar position.

Recently I took a different position in the company and many people saw the switch as an extreme change. Yes, it is very different from my former position. However, I was able to apply skills gained from one role and build new skills in my current role. All of which are preparing me for my future career goals. Again, the path is unique to you and no two people may have the same path.

A path is there for guidance not set in concrete. It is meant to be flexible and allow for the individual to make his or her decisions based on interests and new discoveries along the way. It is not meant to be straight and narrow but allow for curves along the way. If you have an interest don't be afraid to pursue it because you could end up finding a position that fulfills a passion you may not even realize you had!

 

By: Amie Hasselbring

 

May 31
Increase Your Credibility to ERASE all Doubt

​Every day we engage others in conversation, presentations and meetings. You engage in communication where you need to make key points about your perspective, thought or idea.  Your intent is to have credibility and impact with the direction or outcome of the interaction.  You need to ERASE all doubt in communicating your key points that will increase your influence and outcomes. Below are five different forms of evidence to support your key ideas. The acronym ERASE will help you remember them.

  1. Experiences – Real life situations, your own or third parties are recognized as a powerful form of evidence. Experiences can be delivered with conviction and credibility because they are real. Include enough background information to make them come alive to you listener. They should be current and brief. Make sure the audience can relate and the outcome is successful. Be careful not to overuse.
  2. Reasons – Reasons answers the "why" questions your audience may have. You can use outlined facts, thoughts or ideas which will explain or answer the "why" questions that come from your ideas.
  3. Authority – This is usually a well-regarded authority or an informed source that can be a documented quote, finding, conclusion or rationale that are almost never doubted.  The authority must be regarded as credible by the audience.
  4. Statistics and Facts – These are the most commonly used sources for proof. Although statistics show factual information, they can be difficult for an audience to remember or understand. Help your audience visualize what you are saying by adding a more personalized example of what the statistic means to the listener.
  5. Examples – Examples are similar to experience except that you are explaining an event that did not occur, but is still relevant to your point. Your audience will make inferences to other moments in their lives that will lend more credibility to the point you are making. Analogies are often used as examples.

Before your next conversation, presentation or meeting; take a few minutes to identify your key points you want to make, then select one of the five ways you can ERASE all doubt to increase your impact and credibility.

 

By: David Hansen

May 15
Connecting with your Company

"I don't know why you are so excited to graduate. You're going to be working for the next 50 years of your life" – stated my senior year college professor. I am now several years out of college and still refer to this as one of the best statements I had ever heard. Like a smack in the face, this rather blunt statement put my future career into perspective and prompted me to think of what I do and the company I work for with a different approach.

I believe it is not only important for every person to find passion in what they do, but also important to find a connection to the purpose of the company... What makes you complete your best work? What keeps you walking in that door every day? What makes you stay the extra hour – or four to accomplish the task?  The big reason that rises to the top for me is my connection to the big picture – what is the company's impact on the world? I may not have grown up on a farm, but I find the agricultural industry a place where I can see a real impact on the world. I connect to the work I do because I work for a company that is making a difference in the world by providing. The ways we impact the world range from supplying propane to heat the house on a cold winter day, feeding and fueling the world by providing the best products and services to farmers and growers, and by being the best we can be for our customers daily.

I'm proud of the company I work for and the industry which it does business. I find passion in what I do daily because I know the difference the GROWMARK System is making on the world. Although 50 years is literally a lifetime, the days go fast when you work for a company whose business you are truly connected to on a deeper level!

 

By: Marissa Williams

April 30
Celebrate Good Times… Come On!!

On any day of the year, you can guarantee there is something being celebrated or remembered on a national or global level.  The month of May is no exception and presents quite the variety of interesting and unusual things to remember or celebrate.  Cinco de Mayo, Mother's Day, graduations, and Memorial Day are a few well-known ones.  But did you know that May also includes Star Wars Day, World Red Cross Day, National Eat What You Want Day (celebrated all year long in my case), and World Turtle Day?!

We can argue that some of these days are more important that others, but regardless, it seems on any given day there is something to celebrate.  In the workplace, it doesn't have to be any different.  Celebrating and recognizing the good work, efforts and progress of team members creates a positive work environment, increases team morale and creates a more engaged workforce.  Whether you are the leader of a team or an employee, we can all do our part to build each other up and take time to celebrate successes. 

Here are some simple ways to celebrate those successes:​

  1. In team meetings have each person share something they want to celebrate or recognize.  This could be something they personally accomplished or something they want to recognize others for.
  2. After completing a big project, take time to celebrate by going out for lunch, hosting a potluck, going bowling or plan an activity that allows you to pause and appreciate your success before moving onto the next project.
  3. Create a "kudos" board where team members can write a note to recognize their peers on a job well done.  Individuals can hang up positive feedback they received from customers or others that relates to their work.
  4. Create a traveling plaque or trophy that gets passed from employee to employee based on being "caught" doing something impressive.
  5. On regular basis, determine one positive behavior that you want to recognize.  You don't have to be a supervisor to do this. Maybe today you recognize excellent customer service skills and tomorrow you show appreciation for a timely response to a customer.  Vary the behavior and vary the way you recognize it.
These are just a few ways to weave celebration and recognition into the fabric of your team's culture.  Have fun and get creative! I don't think there is a team out there that wouldn't love some pizza on National Pizza Party Day (May 18) or donuts on National Donut Day (June 1)! ​


By: Carrie Kuhns
April 15
How Important is Company Culture?

It is one thing to enjoy the work you do, but another thing to enjoy the environment you work in. My inspiration for this blog came from a somewhat recent situation with a friend. It was similar to this:

Person A: "I love my current employer, but I found a career elsewhere that pays more and I really want to take a chance on this opportunity. I could use a pay increase."

Person B: "Oh really? What have you heard about their company culture? Are you sure you want to leave everything about this company for a little more pay? You do realize companies like this are hard to come by…"

Person A: "The company didn't score very high on their review when I looked them up on Glassdoor, but I'm sure it's fine. Again, I really need this pay increase."

Person B: "Well, I hope you're making the right decision. I'm not sure I would give up the amazing culture at your current employer simply for a little more pay. I guarantee if you're patient and work hard, good things will happen for you at your current workplace!"

*TWO MONTHS LATER*

Person A: "I have really tried to be positive about all of this and not complain, but the culture at my new job is unbearable. This may sound terrible, but I wish I had never left my former position. I think I am going to try to leave here soon. I'm sick of being treated like another number here."

Is leaving a highly respected company for a little more pay a smart decision? Not in my book. You don't realize how impactful company culture is. At GROWMARK, our culture is one of a kind. I have been spoiled with compassionate teammates, a plethora of ways to directly engage with our CEO, and many opportunities to get involved with employee programs that host annual walking challenges, recycling programs, food drives, and numerous employee recognition events. (Honestly, this list could go on and on.) I think everyone would agree that it feels good to work for an employer that truly cares about me and my well-being. There is something special about working for a place that puts forth effort to make their employees feel appreciated.  I've learned you can't put a price tag on that! The next time you are forced to make a new career decision based on career advancement, pay increase, or length of commute, be sure to stay mindful of just how important company culture can be.

 

By: Tori Streitmatter

 

March 30
Professional Certifications: Three Points To Consider

Adult Learning Practitioners are often asked if pursuing professional certifications are worth it? The answer is not so simple. Some professionals will tell you YES! absolutely certifications are worth it and can lead to advancement. Others will say NO! certifications are a waste of time, money and mean very little. As a steadfast advocate for lifelong learning, my recommendation is to pursue opportunities that best align and support your interests and growth - whether you experience a certification program, job rotation, mentoring relationship, reading professional journals/blogs, or take a risk and change professions all together – continue to grow.

If you do find yourself reflecting on the possibility of pursuing a professional certification program, here are three key points to consider:

  1. Investment of time and energy. Certifications programs can take as little as three days of accelerated training all the way to three (plus) years of in-depth training and significant amounts of studying. Choosing the right program for you will depend on the amount of personal time you have to invest, support from your company, and how deep you wish to take your learning/growth. Upon successful completion of the program, many certifications require continuing education units/credit hours to maintain use of the professional certification. Ensure you're aware of all follow up activities for continued use of certification.
  2. Investment of money. Certifications can be costly. Discuss with your Employer if they provide monetary support for job-specific certifications. If not, before you select the program that best meets your learning aspirations consider the costs. Is pre-work and post-work involved at an additional cost? If meetings occur virtually do you have the software technology to support virtual discussions/meetings? Is the certification on-line or Instructor Led? Is there substantial travel involved? Understanding all costs associated will help you determine if the investment is in your best interest. 
  3. Do your research. Many certification programs have slick marketing materials, are heavy with sales-pitches, and unfortunately low in tangible learning objectives. If a program appears to be of interest to you, ask for personal testimonies – contact a few previous participants and discuss their experiences. Also, research more than one certification program. There is a lot of diverse programs and choosing the one best for you may take time.

Remember when selecting the most suitable certification program for you, it's not about the piece of paper you received. It's about the experience of the process and the integration of new skills and knowledge. No matter your choice, continue to remain a curious learner.


By: Stacey Curry

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

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