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Good management can help keep good employees

5 min read

Jackpot! You had a quality job description, took time to interview, asked the right questions, checked references and have hired a motivated, skilled and pleasant new employee. In this tight labour market, celebrate. But, not for too long. There are still some onboarding tasks to complete that will benefit all, including your business.

Onboard with purpose

A great onboarding experience will pay real business dividends, cut productivity loss, reduce the need for additional recruitment and improve overall team morale.

“Once recruited, it’s critical the candidate discovers that the role explained to them in the interview process is actually the role,” says Tracy Hepworth, Vice-President of Human Resources at FCC, who has hired many new employees.

If the person is new to the operation, they face a change and so does their manager. It’s the employer’s job to set the stage. A great start, with solid communication, increases the hire’s desire to do good work, in turn helping them and the business to succeed.

Set clear expectations and vision

Clearly explaining specific job tasks is important and so is talking about the business’ purpose, strategy and how the employee’s work contributes. Is the farm business helping feed people, providing an input to a high-quality product or something else? Share short- and longer-term business goals and the business stage – growing, maintaining or in transition.

If experimentation, innovation and suggestions are welcomed, how and when? Talk about the operation’s work culture – command and control or collaborative and consensus-building. Explain team dynamics, expectations of the new employee and your leadership style.

“I plan for a new employee. I’ve blocked time to spend with them. I know what I want to speak with them about, what their first day, week and month is going to look like. I’m open and welcoming, taking time to know them on a personal level and opening up about myself. Employees want to be seen as a person, not just an employee,” Hepworth says.

Compensation comes in many forms

Today, compensation, or “what’s in it for them,” goes beyond salary, sick leave and vacation time. Discuss opportunities for skill growth and career development, help them network or add non-traditional job pluses.

You might offer opportunities to take courses, attend conferences, or provide housing, meals and events – like a harvest party or a day off for a child’s birthday. Or you might offer something even more specific, such as housing an employee’s cows so they can grow their own herd.

Flexibility and work-life balance are attractive incentives. Even small things can increase a desire to stay. If the person mentions loving chocolate, surprise them the next day with chocolate.

As a leader, practice caring

“Leaders don’t get the option not to care about their employees,” explains Hepworth. “I need to be engaged, listening to their desires and career aspirations. For me, if my ideas are heard and seriously weighed, even if my leader doesn’t agree with them, I feel valued,” she says. “When people feel valued, they’re likelier to stay.”

Know expectations and employee dynamics

Siblings or children on a family farm may inherently know their parents’ work style, expectations and decision-making processes. But it can be a gap for a newcomer, leading to job and personal insecurity. Alternatively, a new hire can intimidate existing team members if they bring new ideas or ways to do things. The employer must recognize and address this.

New employees need information to do their job, from hours of work, assigned tasks and how long they should take, to who and how to ask for help and where people typically eat lunch. Do they need a cell phone or certain apps, for example? If they don’t have the full ability and skills for the role, think about training options or juggling tasks until the newcomer’s ability develops.

Recognition fosters good morale

Having thought about the above, think about reinforcement. Routinely encourage and show appreciation for the right attitude and actions in the way the employee likes to receive acknowledgement. Maybe it’s private praise like “Thank you for doing X, because it helped us meet the business goal of Y. You’re a quick learner.” Or institute a more public reward such as a new employee recognition award.

Show that you recognize when an employee takes on a challenge and be mindful of how you react to mistakes.

Also show that you recognize when an employee takes on a challenge and be mindful of how you react to mistakes, especially when someone is learning. Reinforcing positive behaviour often, balanced with respectful and timely addressing of anything undesired, enables the newcomer to adapt and grow.

“Some of the best recognition I’ve ever received was an email saying ‘You knocked it out of the park. You’re amazing!’’’ says Hepworth, “It showed me that someone cared about me.”

Review and revise employee management policies

Hiring may also be a great time to review your business’ employee management toolkit. Onboarding can highlight gaps which can be closed accordingly depending on the needs, size and nature of the business. It might mean documenting a holiday or unpaid time-off policy to ensure consistency, or writing a process to lodge a complaint. Or it might involve dealing with noncompliance or creation of a more formal performance management plan so all employees know how and when they will be evaluated.

Newcomers to employee management can find best practices online, through agriculture organizations or even other businesses. Also consider hiring a human resources consultant, who can provide insight specific to your unique farm business, helping to customize and optimize your employee management policies.

Build your processes one step at a time, but Hepworth says never underestimate the importance of good employee management practices, especially on a farm, where attention to this area might not always be top of mind, particularly during the busiest times.

Yet, busy periods are where good practices are likely to have great payoff. “A growing business can easily focus on operations, but people are how work gets done. You can’t always rely on yourself or your family. Bringing others onboard smoothly will help you retain a good employee and limit turnover, and that’s really valuable,” Hepworth says.

From an AgriSuccess article by Myrna Stark Leader.

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