Think Like a Coach, Not a Boss

January 28, 2014 06:22 PM

Few elements of farm management have as much impact on productivity and profits as employee management. But managing people in a way that boosts performance is no easy task. Below are seven tips to help you improve morale and boost performance, adding more dollars to your pocket.

1.Don’t Think of Yourself as the Boss. Instead, think that you’re the coach and work to empower your employees to succeed. One key element is autonomy, says Bob Milligan, Cornell University professor emeritus of ag economics and farm consultant with Dairy Strategies. "Boss implies that your job is to tell them what to do," he says. "That’s the old paradigm."

2.Give Meaning to Work. Employees need to know why what they do is important. "This is more than just a mission statement on the wall," Milligan says. "Workers need to understand why you made the decision to farm."

Employees also want to know how their efforts contribute to the farm’s overall success, adds Chuck Schwartau, a University of Minnesota Extension educator. This comes up often in farm employee surveys.

Give workers a challenge. "Cream rises to the top," says Gerald Higginbotham, Micronutrients ruminant business manager, adding that the work should be interesting and appropriate. That is when workers will take the extra step to solve a problem, he says.

3.Chalk the Field. This means that employers should be able to explain desired results, performance levels and rules of the game. Milligan says that while this might sound simple, 99% of U.S. workers have not had the field adequately chalked.

For middle managers, this includes knowing how the farm is doing so they are free to propose changes for improvement, adds Minnesota’s Schwartau.

Workers need clear job descriptions and standard operating procedures, says Felix Soriano, president and owner of APN Consulting. This should be done in writing. When employees understand the rules, they will stay motivated and be key contributors.

4.Provide High-Quality Feedback.
The vast majority of mistakes are not the employee’s fault, Milligan says. Many times, employees are not provided with the necessary tools and training to succeed, he explains. Because of that, negative feedback is often not appropriate.

When employees do good work, tell them, but Schwartau says to be specific about the task they did well. "This will motivate people to do an even better job," he explains. It’s also important to let employees know they can share feedback with you about their concerns and thoughts on how the farm could run more efficiently and productively. Employees need to know that they are sincerely listened to, he says.

5.Care About Employees. Workers are more than just a machine. "Get to know them as people," says Minnesota’s Schwartau. "Take an interest in them." That means giving them time off to attend school events for their children and acknowledging their birthdays, adds Higginbotham.

6.Monitor Performance.
Develop a system to measure performance, ideally on a daily basis, and provide feedback, explains APN’s Soriano.

7.Train Workers. Employees cannot succeed if they haven’t been properly trained to complete the required tasks, Soriano says.

Part of this means providing off-farm continuing education opportunities for workers, explains Higginbotham. Not only will that give workers additional skills, but it motivates them to do a better job because it shows the employer cares, he says.

Employers have a strong incentive to keep employees motivated. Soriano notes that some studies show that having motivated employees improves labor productivity, reduces absenteeism by as much as 27% and turnover rates by as much as 31%, improves efficiencies by as much as 51% and reduces work accidents by as much as 62%. "All of this boosts the bottom line." 

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