Works at: Koala Farms

Michelle Flowers is the Human Resources Manager at Koala Farms, which is located in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley region. Koala Farms produces vegetables over 1,500 acres and employs around 80 people. VegNET – Southern Queensland Regional Development Officer Zara Hall sat down with Michelle to chat about her role, the programs she has implemented in the HR space and the impact they have had on the growing operation and its employees.

What is your role at Koala Farms?

My role is to assist in driving business strategy and growth by designing and delivering overall human resources strategy, leadership, and administration.

Can you describe the program that you have implemented and how you went about it?

There have been several programs designed that are all integrated to support our business strategy. One that we are starting to see the results for is our cultural program. When I first started, Anthony [Staatz; Koala Farma CEO] said he felt very strongly that as the company grows, he really wants Koala Farms to be a workplace where our people feel valued and want to come to work each day. So, our cultural program was designed to support our strategic plan, develop and embed our company values and align our leadership team.

For the development and embedding of our company values, we took a very different approach and wanted to include our employees. Our reasoning for this is that we felt individual values are the underlying beliefs that guide how we make decisions and operate day to day. Company values are an extension of this. Therefore, we asked our employees to contribute by answering three anonymous questions from a list of values:

  1. Select 10 values that represent their own personal values.
  2. Select 10 values that represent the values they saw in the company.
  3. Select 10 values they want to see in the company going forward.

The results were very interesting, with four values (Innovation, Teamwork, Employee Development, Environmental Awareness) rising to the top from all the data collected. The interesting thing about this exercise is that the involvement of our employees in this process instilled an ownership in our values.

Innovation rated highly among participants. This was expected because Anthony places a lot of emphasis on innovation and implementation of R&D in the business. Environmental Awareness was no surprise as a lot of focus has gone into this area over the last 18 months; for example, trialing Bioballs on dams to reduce evaporation.

What have been the key learnings from the program?

I’m not sure if there have been key learnings – we knew that when rolling out a cultural program that it starts at the top with your leadership team and works its way through to the types of systems and processes you have in place. They all need to support the outcomes you are trying to achieve. This meant our annual performance review process needed to be tweaked to comprise of two components: technical skills and behaviours linked into our values. Employee development is one of our values so that formed an important component of the annual performance review process as well and demonstrated our commitment to training and upskilling our employees.

As these programs became more and more embedded into our business, we started to see them come to life not just in WHAT our employees were doing, but also in HOW they were doing them.

How do you feel about your role?

I think I hit the jackpot. There is a big responsibility on my shoulders – I love working at Koala Farms because I know I have Anthony’s support; I know I am adding value to the business and to our employees. I also feel very lucky to have an amazing team of people I work with. I really couldn’t ask for more.