Many farms want to scale up their operations, and they need people to do the work. Ideally, you want great teams of employees. Great teams can problem-solve and manage themselves. It's probably your dream of having motivated and knowledgeable employees who look for solutions and hold each other accountable. Thus, freeing up your time to focus on growing the farm.
You invest a lot of time and money building your team -- hiring, training, and retaining employees. You don't want any of them repeating the same mistakes year after year. Employee feedback is an important part of training and retaining great employees.
There are a couple of ways to start these 'feedback' conversations. Having one-on-one employee reviews is one way. We went into details on best practices for these employee reviews in the Nov.-Dec. 20221 issue.
Another way is to have a meeting with everyone about a specific topic. Call it a group review, a debrief, or whatever you want. But it's a great way to both get and give feedback with everyone involved at the same time.
This does not replace a one-on-one employee review. With a one-on-one employee review, you focus on one employee at a time and the pros and cons of how they do all parts of their job. With a group review/debrief, you have a sit-down meeting with your entire team and discuss the pros and cons of only one part of your operation.
How it works
After any major season or event (planting, spraying, harvest, etc.), call a meeting of all employees. When you set up the meeting, ask them to think about two questions. The questions are "What worked?" and "What needs improvement?" Then, bring everyone together, sit down in a comfortable place, and have a whiteboard handy which everyone can see.
During this group review:
- Have an owner or farm manager review what was accomplished in a brief recap.
- Next, ask the employees what they think went exceptionally well during the season. Asking in turn, keeps some employees from dominating discussions or others from staying silent. Capture these thoughts on a whiteboard. While you may believe they are missing something big, wait until last to give your input.
- Then go around the room and ask them for input on what didn't work well. This can be operations, scheduling, communication, maintenance, etc. Capture their thoughts and again, save your feedback until everyone else has spoken.
- Finally, brainstorm on how to improve the strengths and fix the weaknesses. Then, come up with a plan to fix the weaknesses, so they are not carried into the next year. Let them try their ideas unless their idea clearly will not work.
Avoid this mistake
Whatever you do, don't ignore the input! Asking for input, then ignoring their concerns and solutions is a big mistake. You also don't want to ramrod your solution over theirs. Either of these will weaken, not strengthen, your team; they'll soon believe that it is only the boss's opinion that matters and begin sharing less and withdrawing more. This leads to teams not being able to solve their own problems. You probably don't have time to troubleshoot every issue, so a team that thinks for themselves is a good thing.
As an owner or manager, resist the urge to share YOUR thoughts until you have fully explored THEIR thoughts. Waiting will get them talking and coming up with possible solutions. There is a good possibility they'll even voice your ideas before you do, which is a win-win situation because if it is their idea, they will work harder at it. That's just human nature.
Ultimately, you will be the one deciding how to move forward, what to change and what not to change.
Following are some tips to help you navigate the process of receiving feedback and acting on it in a way that not only strengthens the relationships on your team but also improves your processes for the next time around.
Ask questions. If you don't understand what someone is saying, keep asking questions until you do understand.
- Repeat back to them what you think you heard them say. Then allow time for them to verify you heard it right or give you more information.
- Keep listening. It's not always easy to be quiet and listen. But it is extremely important that you do so in this meeting.
- Give all ideas equal respect. You won't be able to incorporate all the ideas into a final solution but showing respect for all the ideas as they are brought up will build trust among everyone. (Which is a building block for solid teams, but that's another article.)
- Do not let the conversation turn into blaming specific people. For example, if someone's input is, "We could never get the cart unloaded on time because Joe was too slow at xxx." Write it on the whiteboard as "It took longer than we thought to xxx"
- Take good notes and create an action plan for the next season.
You may find that some of the employees don't think about ways to improve your farm. They have little constructive input. It is possible they aren't inclined to think while they work or are just putting in their time. Other team members may have plenty of input on what Isn't working but don't have solutions. They can fix the blame but not the problem.
These observations are a side benefit of these meetings. You can start getting a feel for who acts and who doesn't. Who might make good managers in the future, and who drags others down?
This process might not be an overnight success. It takes time for employees to realize you want their feedback. But over time, these meetings will improve, and the solutions will be better as everyone is looking for ways to improve from year to year.
Who wouldn't want a team that gives you more time to focus on growing your farm coupled with less stress?
Schaefer is an executive management coach and succession planner for farms and agribusinesses. If you have a management or succession planning question, contact email@example.com.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.