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Four ways to use process and structure for effective leadership

  • 8 min read

Many entrepreneurs can keep numerous tasks or projects running simultaneously. Farmers provide an excellent example of this – work needs to get done, and often it’s achieved by working harder and longer hours.

This changes when more people are involved. Eventually, as the business grows, even the hardest working and efficient farmer will need to bring in more help. It can be a huge adjustment to shift from doing the work themselves to accomplishing work through others. Instead of just working harder to move the business forward, a leader needs to optimize how well the team works and look for ways to enhance employee’s efficiency and engagement.

The best leaders usually have ‘spikey profiles,’ which means they’re really good at one or two things but not good at everything. Being organized can be a big ask for certain leaders, but structure and process are necessary to ensure that all employees know the employer’s expectations. Solid processes also ensure that employees are treated equally and fairly.

In this article, we look at four core concepts and processes you need to lead a team effectively:

  1. Employee handbook: Creating an employee handbook to document and communicate fundamental rules and standard operating procedures is a good place to start.
  2. Priority planning: Unexpected events can require a change in plans. Create a strategy to help everyone decide what needs to be taken care of immediately and what can be pushed back.
  3. Time management: Efficiency levels for individuals and the team become harder to assess as the number of employees and business complexity grows. Tools and strategies to monitor efficiency become very important.
  4. Consistent employee interaction: The employee handbook will outline company policy, but leaders and managers should follow consistent protocols when communicating and interacting with employees.

Employee handbook

It sounds daunting but creating an employee handbook can start as something basic and simple. It can a one or two-page document summarizing guidelines. It’s meant to be a living document that evolves to address new realities in the workplace. Adding new elements and changing the handbook as you go keeps it relevant and accurate.

A handbook should include a mission statement and vision for the business. It should communicate to employees what kind of company they work for and the values that influence how the company and its employees conduct themselves.

The handbook also allows you to communicate the rules, expectations and quality standards for the workplace. It can also protect you as the employer should an employee take legal action. The handbook shows that you’ve done your diligence in communicating company policy to the employee.

The handbook can also go beyond the hard and fast rules and protocols and allow employers to create or reinforce the desired culture.

There are templates and sample employee handbooks available to help you get started. But if it’s done right, every company’s handbook will be unique to their culture, values, policies and workplace realities.

There are common elements though, and the following topics should be part of the content for most employee handbooks:

  1. Hiring policies
  2. Safety and security procedures
  3. Payment schedule and overtime pay policy
  4. Meal and rest breaks
  5. Leaves of absence
  6. Performance review procedures and frequency
  7. Resignation and termination procedures
  8. Employee benefits description
  9. Disciplinary process

We’ll cover many of these topics in greater detail in future articles in this series.

Priority management

Successful leaders maximize their productivity by recognizing that they must make tough decisions about where they direct their attention and energy. On an individual level, this means being adept at priority management. In other words, the question “what is the best use of my time” plays in a constant loop in their head. It applies over the long-term where a plan for the coming year is being mapped out, but also on a real-time basis when things become busy and complicated at work.

There’s a good farming metaphor for this skill related to rock picking. Many farmers, farm kids and employees will be familiar with this task. If you start by picking up every rock you see, big and small, it will quickly become evident that you need to focus on the big rocks if you hope to progress.

It starts by defining the long-term priorities. This is the easy part, and everyone involved should be aware of these. The hard part is when events conspire that require a shift from the planned priorities. If something comes along that becomes THE priority, then the previous priority must be either delayed, allocated to someone else or cancelled. These are the tough decisions.

Setting long term priorities and explaining the rationale behind them helps everyone understand the process. Having monthly or weekly meetings to address shifting priorities reinforces the mindset. The objective is for everyone to know the existing priority, and if it changes, what the thinking is behind the shift.

Time management

We all know the old saying – time is our most important and valuable resource. You can’t make it, buy it, recoup it or transfer it. But you can lose it. Priority management determines what to work on. Time management is about making sure the work gets done efficiently.

There can be unique time management challenges for farm managers, such as intense seasonal workloads that challenge the team both mentally and physically. Weather can ruin the best-laid plans, and priorities can change at the drop of the hat.

Time management is a huge focus for all businesses, from sole proprietors to multi-nationals. And again, some of the principles that help individuals manage their time can also apply to a team setting. Successful entrepreneurs and business leaders find a way to get more things done than the average person by maximizing their time.

You’ll hear some common themes from super achievers:

  • They tend to get up early
  • They allocate alone time to determine their daily action items
  • They don’t get bogged down by email and unnecessary meetings
  • They become very good at delegating and trusting their team

For a farm business with multiple team members, it can be difficult for the farm manager to have a day-to-day understanding of how everyone’s time is being spent.

Time management for a team involves process, with monitoring and direction from leadership. Some basic time management practices include:

  1. Have clear expectations and set deadlines for specific tasks
  2. Use tools to help understand and measure how the team spends time
  3. Help your team learn how to better manage and plan their time
  4. Communicate with staff to learn their perspective on time issues

Leadership plays an enormous role in how a team spends their time. While leaders need to delegate tasks to their team, overloading them with ad hoc assignments and off-the-cuff requests undermines planning or structured time management protocols. If team members are reluctant to say no, the result is overload, stress and burnout. It’s not sustainable.

There are many different tools to help employees and farmers track their time. Building a simple spreadsheet that employees can access via the cloud is about as easy as it gets without reverting to paper. Software packages, while not designed specifically for agriculture, can be customized to meet specific time monitoring needs. Some timesheet software can integrate with payroll and accounting software. There are also mobile app options that make sense for teams not in front of a computer very often.

Once it’s determined how time is being spent, leadership can work with the team to identify ways to save time and improve efficiency. Tracking time may yield a surprising result even for team members – they may not realize how much of their time is spent on admin or emails.

Consistent interaction with employees

Organized management and consistent processes give employees a sense of stability and confidence.

The idea of consistency in a workplace is part of all the concepts covered in this article. It’s a big reason why the employee handbook is important.  A consistent approach helps leaders and team members prioritize large and small tasks with confidence. It also helps improve time management and maximizes efficiency.

If an employee faces a different process every time they submit expenses or ask for time off, it can affect how they view the company and their commitment to it. Organized management and consistent processes give employees a sense of stability and confidence.

Productivity is higher when staff already know the prerequisite steps to complete a task or make a decision. Consistency means not having to reinvent the wheel repeatedly and gives employees a stronger understanding of how to do their job and meet expectations. If two employees are given different instructions how to feed cattle, it creates confusion among employees and influences how the team views leadership.

It’s not just processes that need to be consistent. Leaders set the tone for the team. And as discussed in the first article in this series, if the leader is consistent in prioritizing, time management and how they interact with employees and clients, the team will mirror that effort.

If some employees have a performance review every six months, but others go years without one, it sends a message that leadership is inconsistent with what’s in the handbook, and it sends a message to the team that inconsistency is ok.

Some farmers struggle with process and structure, because they’re naturally independent, freewheeling, nimble and creative. It’s a big step but recognizing that structure and consistency enables better team performance is an important part of effective leadership.