Employee Management Lessons from Retailers

September 14, 2017 04:21 AM

To show your farm team you care, keep open lines of communication and provide incentives for a job well done. Those are some strategies farmer-owned cooperative Heritage FS of Gilman, Ill., uses to serve employees, says Bill Romshek, marketing manager.

Farm executives tend to work with local cooperatives to source inputs, but they can also source management and leadership insights from these trusted suppliers.

“Our philosophy at Heritage as a culture is to keep employees all involved, to empower employees,” Romshek tells “Top Producer Podcast” host Pam Fretwell. “They all want to be in the know. The cooperative has 135 full-time employees and hires between 65 and 70 seasonal workers.

“One time a year, we have employee appreciation and we take them out for the weekend,” Romshek explains. “We put them up in a hotel and [provide] meals and entertainment. We show them how much we appreciate what they do.”

Perspective Shift. Young professionals increasingly are bringing original insights to ag employers.

“They bring a lot of new ideas that are extremely helpful in identifying areas where we can improve,” explains Joyce Manning, human resources and compliance manager at Southern States Cooperative headquartered in Richmond, Va. The cooperative serves 23 states.

She recalls a millennial team member the cooperative hired six years ago who helped reduce the hiring process from up to four days to a few hours. “She was instrumental in changing Southern States from a paper application process to a completely electronic application process,” Manning explains. “In doing so, this saved the applicant and the recruiters hours of time.”

The company held a millennial forum to get new employees’ thoughts on policies and retention.

Adaptive Approach. Cooperatives also are working to address the needs of the next generation, even when those requirements don’t directly relate to the job. “In the younger generation, the spouses work also,” Romshek says. “It’s hard for employees to be gone weekends and holidays as well as then to be away from the spouse. The ag industry is very seasonal, and Mother Nature’s the boss. We work when we have to.”

To compensate employees for their investment of time and hard work, the company offers generous benefits such as cooperative-wide and discretionary bonus programs and scheduling flexibility.

The cooperative recently hired a human resources manager, and its leaders aim to create career paths.

“A lot of people are looking for advancement and opportunity to grow,” Romshek explains. “You try to keep that in mind when you’re looking at growth opportunities within the company.”

It isn’t always easy to integrate millennials into the workforce, but the outcome can be positive.

“We have to make changes to stay vibrant and competitive in the work that we do,” Manning says. 

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