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Scale up your farm operation by maintaining a great team of employees.

Tim Schaefer, Founder

February 7, 2022

3 Min Read
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Many farms want to scale up operations, and they need people to do the work. Ideally, you want great teams of employees. Great teams can problem solve and manage themselves, thus freeing up your time to focus on growing the farm. 

You will 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 essential for training and retaining great employees. But are you ready to hear it?

There are a couple 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 November 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 to everyone involved at the same time. It does NOT replace a one-on-one employee review. However, 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.

After any significant season or event (planting, spraying, harvest, etc.), call a meeting of all employees. When establishing the meeting, ask them to think about two questions:

"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. (Part of the different learning styles that we have discussed.)

During this group review:

  1. Have an owner or farm manager review what the project entailed. 

  2. 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.

  3. Then go around the room and ask them for input on what didn't work well. Maybe operations, scheduling, communication, maintenance, etc. Capture their thoughts on the whiteboard, and again, save your thoughts until everyone else has spoken.

  4. Finally, brainstorm on how to improve the strengths and fix the weaknesses. Then, come up with a plan to fix the failings, so team members don't repeat them next season. Let them try their ideas unless their idea clearly will not work.

Whatever you do, don't ignore the input! Asking for the team’s input, then ignoring concerns and solutions, is demoralizing.

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. Ultimately, you will be the one deciding how to move forward, what to change, and what not to change.

A few tips:

  • Ask questions. If you don't understand what someone is saying, keep asking until you understand.

  • Repeat back to them what you think you heard them say. Then allow them time to confirm you heard it right or give you more information.

  • Keep listening. Silence is ok and is essential at this time.

  • 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 presented will build trust among everyone.

  • Do not let the conversation turn into blaming specific people.

  • Take good notes and create an action plan for the next season.

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 become better, and the solutions will be better also 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. Contact him at [email protected].

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 

About the Author(s)

Tim Schaefer

Founder, Encore Wealth Advisors

Tim Schaefer guides large, successful farm operations, helping them get and keep a competitive edge. His tools are peer groups via the Encore Executive Farmer Network, transition planning, business growth planning, and executive coaching. His print column, Transitions & Strategies, appears regularly in Farm Futures and online at FarmFutures.com. He is a Certified Family Business Advisor, Certified Business Coach and Certified Financial Planner. Raised on a successful family farm, his first business venture was selling sweet corn door to door with an Oliver 70.

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