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Why you should manage each farm employee differently

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Each person on your farm team needs and deserves a unique management style.

"Plug and play" is what we all want with employees. Just hire them, put them in a cab, and don't worry about them. They'll do an expert job. Plug them in and turn them loose.

In reality this management philosophy doesn't work. Plug and play is a myth when it comes to people management. People aren't machines, and employees require management for you to be satisfied.

Assuming you hire well, each employee needs a different management style. It may sound overwhelming but how you manage depends on the type of work and their key traits. 

What do you risk if you try ‘plug and play’ on all employees?

The point of failure in employees is when they don't want to do the work, don't want to learn, don't want to work in a team, or don't want to communicate with others. Many other things could go into this list, but they all share the same attribute. They, the employee, don't want to do something you need them to do. We call it Low Will.  

In all of our farmer peer group meetings, labor is always a hot topic. But it often isn't clear whether the right people are in the right places; it’s also not clear how to manage them to their fullest potential. The Will Skill Matrix is a handy tool that will give you a place to start.

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The Will Skill matrix is a tool with two axes. Think about each of your employees and write their names into the matrix after asking yourself two questions.

  1. How much can the employee rely on their skills to complete the task?
  2. How much does the employee want to do the work?

Realize there is no ideal place to be on the grid for all of your employees. Some farms with a lot of hand labor will perform fine with employees in the low-skill box. CEOs who want to free up their time and create a scalable operation will want to have employees in the top two boxes.

So how do you use the matrix to work with employees in each box? Here are some tips for managing the employees in each box.  

  • Low Skill & Low Will – Direct them at all levels. Set clear rules, procedures, and deadlines. Provide them with frequent feedback and set controls around what they can and can't do. The category should be viewed as temporary as it takes a great deal of management time and it's stressful. Try to minimize the number of employees in this area.
  • High Skill & Low Will –Instill confidence. Give them the responsibility and a sense of ownership in the outcome. Praise them for a job well done to build enthusiasm. Give them opportunities for additional training. Also, look at giving them small, extra responsibilities. Sometimes employees in this area are simply bored or view the job as a dead end. Employees in this area will sometimes pick up their game but not always. If not, look at replacing them. It's hard to let these employees go because of their talents.  But their traits often cause more team dysfunction than it's worth. A typical trait in this category is having a loner preference who doesn't work well with others. 
  • Low Skill & High Will – New employees may fall into this category and are often your future star employees. Long-term employees who do manual labor also fall into this category. Guide and train them. Teach them the methods and set the standards you want to achieve. Once they learn a specific task, give them both the responsibility and the authority to carry it out.  Provide frequent feedback on how to improve.
  • High Skill & High Will – These employees are worth their weight in gold for a farm that aspires to grow and scale-up. Look in this box for futures middle managers. These employees help set the pace and create the culture. Don't over-manage these employees and include them in the decision-making process. Instead of giving them tasks, delegate entire projects. Coaching instead of "telling" is a trait that you will need for these employees.  At first, you will need to coach them, but over time you will be able to move major responsibilities permanently off your plate. That will give you time for tackling the next opportunity, and it is crucial for creating a scalable farm.

After going through this exercise, you may find some employees are not long-term fits for your company. That's OK. Don't be afraid to replace them over time. We find that letting employees (who aren't a fit) go is a sure-fire way to propel farms forward. Holding onto the wrong employees not only costs money but it also drives good employees away.

There isn't a mythical "plug and play" category in the matrix, and that's probably a good thing for everyone.

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