What happened to common sense? Is work ethic part of the past? Why can’t my employees get the job done on their own? These are questions I’ve heard frequently from business owners, not just in agriculture but all industries. It’s becoming increasingly perplexing and frustrating to manage people.
Ironically, some farm owners spend endless amounts of time and money optimizing their farm equipment and processes, but they forget about the people side. They monitor their capital expenditures but not their human capital.
It seems that investing in human capital can be overwhelming. In the past, when farms were smaller and equipment was less sophisticated, owners relied on the family to work on the farm.
As agriculture started moving toward larger farms, automation and robotics, it required employees with specialized skills. Industry consolidation and new technological advances are key trends that are driving change to the structure of a farm’s workforce and leadership needs.
When I talk to farm managers about their people issues, the first question I ask is, “Have you thought your leadership style and skills could be part of the issue?” Often, I’ll get defensive answers or scowls and dismissals. To that, I respond, “People need the same care and attention equipment and animals get on the farm, if not more.”
Accountability is impossible without clear expectations.
Human performance (how your employees perform on the job) is often related to expectations, skills and consequences. When people aren’t performing to your standards, it’s likely because there is a lack of:
1. Clear expectations: They don’t truly understand what you expect, want or need. Ask yourself, “Have I clearly articulated my expectations?” Most of the time, you haven’t.
2. Skill or resources: They don’t have the skills or tools to do the job.
3. Lack of consequences: If they are performing poorly and nothing happens, why should or would they change?
Effective and successful leaders are self-aware. They can look in the mirror and understand that their communication, behaviors and performance impact their employees’ performance.
For example, I worked with a farm that had a high employee turnover rate. The husband and wife owners said that finding and keeping good employees was becoming very challenging. They were becoming anxious and discouraged as they attempted to find people to work on their farm.
To get to the heart of why it was becoming hard to find and keep people, I asked to speak with some of their former employees to understand the root cause of the issue. They gave me approval to proceed, though perhaps with some reluctance.
I met with five former employees and found a recurring issue: the leadership. In fact, this is the number one reason why farms have trouble finding and keeping good people.
One of the former employees, who quit a few months earlier said, “I’ve worked with them for almost two years. I worked long hours and always tried to do a great job. I left because the owners didn’t seem to care about me.
They never tried to get to know my family or me. There were no invites for staff and family gatherings. In fact, I don’t think they ever asked me about my family. I was like a machine to them, not a human. I had to quit.”
Another employee, who left the business earlier in the year said, “Man, it’s a gong show. I never knew what was going on in the owner’s mind. He says one thing and does another, and his moods were wicked.
Every day, I wondered what mood I’d have to face. He told me I didn’t take initiative and couldn’t think for myself. Does he know that when I tried, I got into trouble? I’m relieved to not be working there anymore; my self-confidence took a real beating.”
After talking with the former employees, I went to the owners and asked them to answer some key leadership questions:
1. What type of leader are you?
2. Do you energize people about working on your farm?
3. Have you created and communicated clear performance expectations to your employees that include expected behaviors and results?
4. What is your farm’s vision? Have you communicated it to your employees and let them know how they fit in?
5. Do you clearly communicate expectations and allow people to achieve results on their own?
6. Do you provide feedback every day?
7. Are you creating a culture of high-performing and accountable people?
8. Do you take the time and interest to get to know your employees (set aside one-on-one time, plan special events, etc.)?
After answering these questions, the owners started to understand their role in the issue and implemented changes that made them more effective leaders, which in turn encouraged and made their employees more effective as well.
Looking in the figurative mirror, even though it’s hard to do, can help you become an effective and respected leader with a strong farm and employee structure to match. PD
Michelle C. Painchaud
President and CEO
Painchaud Performance Group