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Top five ways farm CEOs can engage employees

2.5 min read

Employee engagement is critical for new farm CEOs’ leadership, as well as for more established farm CEOs to inject new life into their labour force.

1. Let employees help

“Farmers like to be in control, but everyone’s not good at everything, so let some of that control go,” says Alberta producer Kevin Serfas.

Serfas says he struggled finding time to lead the seasonal worker hiring process, despite the workers’ value to his operation. Engaging them in interviews over the Internet and adjusting for different time zones was time-consuming.

Serfas handed the job to a trusted, long-time employee who had previous training in human resources and relished the additional responsibility.

“If it’s not your specialty,” Serfas says, “give it to someone else.”

2. Help employees in need

Ontario-based restauranteur Court Desautels offers $500 interest-free loans for employees who encounter unforeseen expenses. They can draw these loans up to three times a year and must pay it back in 12 months.

Desautels says his chef’s pet developed a sudden illness that was going to require her staying at home to look after it, unless it received immediate treatment that she couldn’t afford.

“She has an important role in our operation... we need her on the job, so helping her out was good for her and a good investment for us,” Desautels says.

3. Provide regular feedback

Through a staff survey, Desautels learned employees wanted more frequent feedback and face-to-face time with managers, even if it’s brief. He says the traditional annual or semi-annual review is a dinosaur.

“It’s like ‘I’ve been here for six months and you’re just giving me feedback now?’ I try to connect with as many employees as I can in a day, even if it’s only for five minutes, to show I care and to understand what’s going on in all aspects of the operation,” Desautels says.

4. Promote consistent engagement

Terry Betker, president and CEO of Backswath Management Inc., urges farm CEOs to hold regularly scheduled engagement activities with staff.

He points to one Manitoba farm where staff get together four times a year, without fail, for a team-building event. The event always includes an annual farm plan presentation and update.

“The benefit is that all team members hear what’s going on at the same time, right from the leadership team, and feel a part of the plan’s implementation,” Betker says.

5. Leverage strengths

Darren Dillenbeck, country manager for FMC Canada, says experience taught him to shift his thinking when dealing with staff.

“In the past, too often I’ve focused on correcting weaknesses in performance, when my energy would be better spent letting people utilize their strengths to help them do their job,” Dillenbeck says.

He suggests CEOs let employees master aspects of their roles that differentiate them from others.

“It can be challenging to clearly identify individual strengths; it requires frequent discussion and active listening, but it pays off by letting them know they are valued as key contributors to the team’s success.”

Delegate, help employees when they need it, provide regular feedback, get together as a team and leverage strengths. 

Bottom line

Engaging employees in a farm operation takes extra work on the CEO’s part. Experts say find and use employee strengths, help in times of need and provide frequent feedback to help employees feel their true value to the operation.

Article by: Owen Roberts

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