Working with people outside of the family on a family farm can present challenges. On the Klein’s Seymour, Ill. farm, they strive to make sure everyone feels heard.
“We want everyone to feel like they’re a part of the operation,” Joe Klein, one of the family member operators, says. “We wouldn’t be as successful as we are today without good employees and we’re fortunate to have very little turn over with our employees.”
Good employees are hard to find—and harder to keep if you don’t communicate effectively.
1. Set up formal lines of communication. “When our operation begins to grow or become more complex, we often don’t address communication systems,” says Dean Heffta of Water Street Solutions. “That kind of informality can’t go on—implement systems for communication.”
Whether it’s telling the employees what you need them to do today or explaining their jobs, be clear and concise—you can imagine how frustrating it can be to expect one action from an employee and get another and vice versa.
“Share what you expect with employees verbally and in writing so there is no confusion,” says Bob Fetsch, family and ranching communication expert at Colorado State University Extension.
2. Have employees report to one person. Picture this: an employee is working on fixing a combine, when family member No. 1 comes in and asks him to head outside to help vaccinate cows. He packs up and starts walking outside when family member No. 2 comes in and chastises him for leaving his post at the combine.Mixed messaging can be frustrating for everyone involved.
After assigning responsibility for family members, decide which employees report to what family member to avoid confusion—and respect those boundaries. Then let employees know of their immediate supervisor.
3. Ask for feedback. “See how it’s going, provide feedback and answer questions,” Fetsch says.
For example, on the Klein farm, feedback is encouraged when gathered around the shop’s dinner table, which is where everyone gathers, family and employees, in the evening during harvest.
“During harvest one of the daughters-in-laws or I take turns making everyone a hot meal,” Deb, matriarch of the Klein family, says. “That meal is a time for them to vent, talk about what happened and unwind. We solve a lot of problems over food.”
The family also keeps the shop kitchen stocked with chips, sandwich supplies and other goodies for employees to access throughout the day.