Top performing farms and businesses encourage employees to think like owners

The weather is turning and we are all gearing up for planting. I get it: Long hours, lots going on, big decisions that affect the entire farm season. Talk about pressure. You and your team have to be at the top of your game. Someone recently asked me, “How do I keep the team focused and performing well during the lengthy days of planting?”

As the leader you get to set the tone for a highly productive culture. You are the secret sauce that can develop a unified team. I think we underestimate how much influence we really have as leaders. We can quickly turn a great team into a bunch of warm bodies driving the tractors. Or by the same token, we can turn a bunch of warm bodies into highly proactive, all-star employees.

Boost performance this season with these easy-to-implement, highly effective tips.

1. Set clear direction and goals for the season.

Sounds simple enough, but most farms miss this step. Hold a pre-plant kick-off meeting with the entire team to discuss field planting order, what to watch for this season, communication expectations from operators, etc. That’s your chance to talk about quality and expectations. Everyone likes a target; humans inherently want to hit a goal in front of them. What are your goals for average acres to plant per day? I realize it won’t be exact, but it still gives your team some type of bullseye. Near the time clocks, have the total remaining acres updated or share it on an app so everyone knows the progress.

On a sports team everyone knows the score, not just the coaches. If you feel like you are over communicating, over sharing, you are probably just about right in terms of good management.

2. Create a group of thinkers.

I always get asked how to get employees to think like an owner. It starts with building a team of thinkers.

Jack Welch, the infamous CEO of GE, said “giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing to do because then they will act.”

Always solicit feedback and ideas from your team. Get their wheels turning. I know you know the condition of the field, ask them what they think. Then share your thoughts. Giving the “why” behind your decisions helps your team build perspective. If an employee comes up with an idea, even a small one, try and run with it. I promise there will be many more where that came from.

3. Take care of your employees.

Take care of them and I promise you they will take care of your farm. When someone is good to you, we want to be good back. Some of our clients bring lunches and dinners to the field during peak season. One large farm I know brings out some cold ones after 7 p.m., but I am not endorsing that one.

The point is, they are doing things to show employees they see it. Something that says, you are working hard and I appreciate it. It’s easy to write on a wipe board near the time clocks, “Thanks for the late night fixing of the planter.” Show the team their efforts matter. Give your team a little break from the long hours by hiring part-time help. Hire a retiree or hire someone working full-time elsewhere looking for evening or weekend hours to relieve your team and give them some extra rest.

I would love to hear what you do on your farm to boost performance or your comments on what I listed.

As I am a new to writing for DTN/Progressive Farmer, I thought I would share a little about myself. I founded AgHires. We help farms and agribusinesses hire employees across the U.S. We provide a website for employers to post and advertise job openings as well as offer full recruiting services. My family farms in Michigan and Indiana growing potatoes, tomatoes and grain. Prior to consulting in the ag industry, I provided human resource and management consulting in the corporate world. I enjoy bringing ideas I’ve seen from other industries and incorporating them into agriculture.

In future columns you will see me write about leadership, management best practices, labor pains, HR compliance and all other aspects of managing talent. See my next column, “Ditching Annual Performance Reviews.”

Lori Culler, Owner AgHires

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