“Vision is important. Everybody in the organization needs to understand and be in alignment with that vision. If you want to motivate people, give them purpose. ” — Tim Norris, Co-Owner, Box Concepts Consulting
Tim Norris, co-owner of Box Concepts Consulting, has seen firsthand how identifying your business’ vision can motivate your employees, no matter how many people you have. The former CEO of Ag Info Tech, Precision Farming Dealer’s 2015 Most Valuable Dealership, grew that Ohio precision business, joined a startup that was acquired by Raven Industries and then worked for Raven before going into consulting.
Ahead of his session at the 2022 Precision Farming Dealer Summit, Norris is giving PFD podcast listeners an exclusive preview of some of the strategic planning advice that he’s going to share during his presentation.
In today’s episode the Precision Farming Dealer podcast, sponsored by Trimble Agriculture, you’ll learn how to identify your business’s mission and vision, what having a defined mission and vision can do for your company’s culture and finances, and some of the most important lessons Norris has learned as a business owner over the years.
Want to hear more from Norris and start your State of the Business Survey? Register for the 2022 Precision Farming Dealer Summit on Jan. 3-4, 2022, in Louisville, Ky.
I’m Michaela Paukner, associate editor of Precision Farming Dealer. Welcome to the latest episode of the Precision Farming Dealer podcast, sponsored by Trimble Agriculture.
New episodes of this series are available wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe to get an alert when upcoming episodes are released.
Today, I’m talking with Tim Norris, co-owner of Box Concepts Consulting and former CEO of Ag Info Tech, Precision Farming Dealer’s 2015 Most Valuable Dealership. As a consultant, Norris helps small businesses identify a unified vision, purposely work on business growth plans and use their core values to empower their teams.
Ahead of his session at the 2022 Precision Farming Dealer Summit, Norris is giving you an exclusive preview of the strategic planning advice he’s going to share during his presentation.
In today’s episode, Norris guides you through identifying your business’s mission and vision, explains what having a defined mission and vision can do for your company’s culture and finances, and shares some of the most important lessons he’s learned as a business owner over the years.
I'm Tim Norris. I'm co-owner of a consulting company called Box Concepts Consulting. And we started this company basically with a friend of mine. Our families have vacationed together for a little while, and we have a place on the river where we were going every year and just do a little short mini vacation for a weekend. And one of the rules down there is when you're at the river, there's supposed to be no work being done.
And my business partner had a book out on a table. It was called traction, and I was really interested in traction and I said, whose traction book is this? And she was all worried, afraid that I was going to give her a hard time because she was doing some work while we were on vacation. And she said, it's mine. And then, so I held up my traction book, and when I saw her book on the table, I thought it was mine but I knew I had mine in my hand and it's like, "Well, who else is reading traction?" So we both discovered that we had this mutual love for helping other businesses and developing our own business as well. And we ended up deciding that, "Hey, when we retire that maybe we ought to start a business together." So that's kind of how it got started, and since we both really like some of the same concepts, it's worked out really well.
Yeah. That's so funny that you guys are both reading it at the same time and had the same kind of reaction to what the book was talking about.
It seemed to click with me. One of the neat things about that book was it really showed you not only what you needed to do, but it told you exactly step by step how to do it. But one of the things that both of us agreed upon was, it's more for large business.
And I've worked in small business a lot of my life. One of the things I started with is just farming and I still continue to farm today. So that's a very small business for me. I do about a thousand acres. I have just hired an employee here, but it's pretty small. Then I started Ag Info Tech, and we worked our way up to about 12 employees there before I sold it. Then I went to work for corporate, a startup company called Smart Ag. And we were developing a driverless tractor for the grain cart. That company got sold to Raven, and I went to work for Raven.
So I kind of got to see the spectrum from just a sole proprietorship with one employee to working for Raven around 1200 employees. So what we want to do is try to take some of the things that we learned along that journey and bring it to small businesses so they don't have to make some of the same mistakes that we have.
What are some of those important lessons that you're sharing with small businesses?
Well, what we're talking about at the Precision Farming Dealer Summit is empowering and engaging your employees to grow your precision business. One of the biggest lessons I learned especially, and it took me way longer to learn this than it should have, but vision is important. And that vision isn't just for the top. It's got to go down. Everybody in that organization needs to understand and be in an alignment with that vision. And one of the things that I really realized is if you want to motivate people, give them purpose. They have to know why they're doing what they're doing and that it serves a much bigger purpose than just installing a auto steer system on a tractor. And for several years, I thought, "What we're doing is we're providing precision ag products and making it work on people's farms" and that was kind of our mission.
But there was an aha moment fairly early on in my company where I sold a couple auto steers to a farmer and his wife. And this farmer and wife, they were just the best, down to earth, greatest people that you can imagine. This was probably in the late 2000swhen auto steer was kind of first brand new and clutches were pretty new. And I remember her saying, "Okay, I understand that this is going to save us feed and we're going to have straighter rows, but we're taking the money that we saved up for my new kitchen and we're going to invest it into this equipment because Tom thinks this is the way we need to go and then it'll pay back. She says, do you really feel that it'll pay back?
And I said, "Yeah, I really do." I said, "It's probably going to take you a year and a half to two years, but just having the clutches on that planter on that 24 row planter and going from shutting 12 rows off at a time to every row," I said, "I think you'll pay for it within two years." And she agreed to do it. She gave up her kitchen, put it on hold. And within the first two weeks of, of the planting season, they had a problem and couldn't get GPS on the one of the tractors and it was the corn planting tractor that had the clutches on it.
And Tom called, I went out and worked on it, got it fixed, got it figured out and was getting ready to leave. And I see Diane coming down the road. And it's a gravel road, there's dust flying off the back of the truck and I thought, "Oh, great. She's coming. I'm going to have to tell Diane, she's going to tell you, this thing broke and give me a hard time or something about it." And she's waving her arm out the window. She pulls in and she said, "I want to thank you." And I said, "Thank me. What for?" I said, "Your system broke down." She says, "Yeah, Tom already radioed that you got it fixed." She says, "But I wanted to catch you and tell you thank you for giving me my husband back."
And I'm like, "What?" And she's like, "You gave me my husband back." And I said, "Well, what do you mean, Diane?" And she's like, "Well, before, when I would come out to the field and I'd bring dinner," she says, "Tom and my son would get out, they would eat as fast as they could, hardly talk to me at all because they're trying to eat as quick as they can, and get back in the tractors to keep them moving." She's like, "Now I come to the field, I deliver the lunch to my son, I climb in the tractor with Tom. He talks to me for 45 minutes to an hour while he takes his time to eat lunch." And she's like, "I can even bring him soup. He doesn't have to do anything while he's going down the rows. This is wonderful.
And when he comes home at night, he's not near as tired." And that really got me thinking. And so I tried to think and tried to instill in our team, "What we're doing is so much more than providing an electronic gadget that controls something on a planter." People really don't want to have electronics to have electronics in their cab, unless you're like me and kind of just love technology. But most people don't love that technology. They want the technology for what it can do for them. And that's usually nothing really to do with the technology. It's the outcome that comes from it. And when you start to get people thinking about, "This technology is helping put some of these farm families' kids through school because it's making them more efficient" or "It's helping them take a vacation because they had enough money left over at the end of the year that they could afford to go on vacation."
There's just so much more that technology can actually do for people. And when you kind of focus on that, it gives you purpose and meaning in the job that you're doing. And so we changed our mission from making technology work to basically serving God and mankind through the use of technology. And to me, that just helps bring the whole reason and purpose to the job place. And I feel like if people feel like they have a true purpose, then they're going to be more motivated to come in and perform that job, so.
I absolutely agree with that. When people can see the bigger picture, they're often more enthusiastic about what they're doing and how it makes a difference in the bigger scheme of things, but beyond the day to day.
Can you give me an example of how you go about helping a dealer identify what their vision actually is?
Yeah, so that's one of the places that we really like to focus on. And the first thing that we usually do when we work with a company is to find the core values. And one of the things that we like to do in defining the core values is, one, we want to get the whole management team in and just have it be more than the owner. And one of the things I learned, again, later in life and I needed to, it was the fact that I would go to peer group meetings, I was involved in two different peer groups, and I would come back and I would have great ideas and I'd want to implement them. And I would expect everybody to be as excited about it as I was. But the problem was, it was my idea and not our idea. And what I realized in going through this exercise, having that whole management team come in, makes it our idea.
Then every manager, in a small business maybe it's every person on the team, is helping work and develop the core values and the mission. So one of the first things is, depending on the size of the company, is either to get all the key players in or to get all the team members in and try to come up with the core values and vision. And so what we ask is, we want each individual person that's there to pick three people that, if you could replicate them and put them in this business, what qualities do they have that you want to show or instill in your business?
And so we start to get a list of 30, 40 different values or qualities up on the board. And we start to pair them together and we start to weed them out till we get the right five to eight different core values that we have. And then that is kind of what is used to define the company and the mission and the vision. So the next thing we would look at is developing the mission. We break our mission down into two different things. One is a purpose, and one is a mission. The purpose is more general like to serve God and mankind. And the mission would be more specific like, "How are you going to do that?" So that's kind of how we develop the mission and the core values.
It sounds like, to be successful, that leadership team really needs to put some thought into their vision and their core values. So after they're spending all that time thinking about it and putting all that work in, what should they be doing to keep their values and vision top of mind for among everybody in the company?
Well, for one thing, it needs to be repeated, repeated, repeated. We had our mission just right on the wall in the office. So any customer that walks in there's a six foot mission, three foot high, six foot wide, tells exactly what our mission is.
The other thing that we do, so over the top of the hallway that led back to the offices, we posted the Bible verse Colossians 3:23, and it says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as you're working for the Lord and not for human masters." So we just tried to keep that in front of everybody every single day. And every time you walk through that hallway, hopefully you'll look up and you see that and you think, "What I'm doing is really for the glory of God and not for me and not for human masters. We're doing it for a greater purpose."
we put "To serve God and mankind" on the back of all our pickup trucks. We had it, our mission statement, on our business card. We had it on all of our advertising literature. And one of the things that we did, and I think this helped the sales people a lot, is even if you had some service people at a trade show or something and they wanted to explain the company, we had our story.
We built basically a folder that we could put the literature in from the different companies that we sold, but that folder told the Ag Info Tech story. And it started off with, first, thanking the customer for considering Ag Info Tech, and then kind of telling the story about what our mission is, what our purpose is, the different product lines that we had, told a little bit about how we started, and it just kind of helped that salesperson and introduce Ag Info Tech to a new customer or a potential new customer. And then also just reinforced the mission and the vision and the values.
So to me, I think the more you can reinforce those and the more you talk about it, the better it is, but you also have to do more than just talk about it. It can't be talk only. So we developed a way to work with the team members and evaluate the team members utilizing the core values. And so this is one of the places where a lot of companies, in my opinion, maybe fail with an organizational chart, is they tend to have an organizational chart that has one job title for each person. Okay? And in a small company, you can't have that. It really doesn't work. Each person wears multiple hats in the company and has multiple job titles. So when I first rolled out my, I call it an accountability chart, to the team, they're like, "This is crazy. You've got 30 some positions," and there were eight of us at the time.
I said, "I have envisioned this company of what it would take to run it if we had one person for every job. But the fact is we don't." So one day you might be the sales manager, the next day you might be installing a part or doing tech support for somebody. But if somebody else is in charge of the service department and you're the sales manager, when you go to the service department, you need to report to the person that's responsible for the service. And where it really is beneficial is, if you are a new employee that comes in, this tells you every single job that you're doing, this would be who you're reporting to when you're working in that position. The other thing that it does is it allowed us to really evaluate each team member for each position or hat or a role that they fill, however you want to talk about it. And then we look at, one, do they have the time for the job that's needed for the job? Do they have the resources that are needed for the job? Do they have the ability that's needed for the job and do they represent each of our core values while they're doing the job? And what's neat is, by going through this exercise, and we do the exercise with all the management team in place so they're kind of evaluating each other, and they're evaluating each other in each role, and what you find out is you find out that somebody may be really good as a salesperson, but really lousy at installation.
Maybe they're decent at tech support, but you start to find the holes. And then when you go to add a new person, it makes it a lot easier saying, well, he doesn't really want this job. He's not really good at this job. Let's take some of those responsibilities and get him more into sales and hire somebody that can do this particular task. And that helps motivate people as well, because they know that if they have to do something they really don't like, or aren't good at, that we're monitoring it and we're not penalizing them for not being good at it, but we're going to try to get them worked out of it as soon as you can.
Yeah. And then by taking the time to figure out the organization and where you may need additional help or to move responsibilities around, what does that do for your business financially, and then also for the culture of it?
Well, financially, it's going to help ensure that you're not hiring someone else that maybe doesn't fit into those areas. You're specifically looking for people to fill those particular roles. The other thing is, I think it makes you financially, it has more of a financial impact if people are doing things that they love to do versus things they don't want to do, just because they're going to be more efficient at it, they're going to be better at it, they're going to be more motivated to do it. Culturally, I think that's just the same exacts statement that I just said. They're going to be more motivated and just going to be happier if they're doing what they're good at.
Right. Well, we are really looking forward to hosting you at the Precision Farming Dealer Summit, January 3rd - 4th in Louisville. I'm wondering if, to wrap up our conversation, you could give me three takeaways that attendees who are attending your presentation are going to walk away with.
First takeaway I would say that people will walk away with is, it's necessary to have a vision and to make sure that everybody knows the vision. The second takeaway I would say that they're going to walk away with is that we really need to be evaluating our team members for each position that they fill and making sure that they are exhibiting the values of the company in each position that they fill. And then the third thing I'd say that they're going to walk away with is a tool that will help them measure their performance of their team and the satisfaction level of their team. One of the things that we're going to provide to any team or any attendee that would like to have it is what we call a State of the Business Survey that we've created.
And this survey is basically 20 questions, and we want to send that to every single person on their team. And the questions ask if they're motivated by their vision of their company, do they always know what their roles are? You know, just several questions that walks them through about their company. And in the end, you can kind of see the areas that your company's really strong in, and you can also see areas where they're weak in. And one of the things that really shocked me when I started to use this survey on my team was that I thought everybody knew what our vision and mission and values were, but we weren't doing a good job reaching a few of the people. So that's when we started to put the mission and vision on the walls and putting it on our business cards. And the more we did, and the more we talked about that, the clearer the mission was, the more excited people were, that they answered that they were motivated by the vision and the values of the company.
And you start to be able to quantify over time from taking this survey and start to see, okay, well, here's where we need to work on, here's our strengths, and over time, you can start to see those areas that you need to work on coming up and getting better. So that would be the last thing I guess that they should see out of this is having a desire to see where their company ranks on being motivated by the vision, the mission, the core values, and hopefully have a way to start to track it in the future.
Yeah, that survey sounds like an excellent tool and a really good place to get started when they're thinking about making these kinds of strategic changes. And then was there anything else you wanted to mention that we haven't talked about?
Well, basically, I'm just going to mix a lot of stories about my experience and experiences that I've had. Hopefully there'll be a few things that are funny, but hopefully, I'm a person that tends to learn more from hearing people's stories than to just hear theory. And I like to put a lot of stories in with my presentations. So hopefully they'll enjoy it.
Thanks to Tim Norris for joining me for today’s episode of the Precision Farming Dealer podcast, and I hope you’ll join us for our next Precision Farming Dealer Summit.
Let me know what you thought about this episode or share ideas for future conversations by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling me at 262-777-2441.
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For Tim Norris and Box Concepts Consulting, Trimble Agriculture and all of us here at Precision Farming Dealer, I’m associate editor Michaela Paukner. Thanks for listening.