In part one of this series, we shared the story of Kansas farmer Lon Frahm, who told Farm Futures he invests in employees and sees them as long-term assets. Here are six ways to make your employees feel empowered, no matter how big your farm happens to be:
Transparency. Frahm shares pretty much everything with everyone; the business is an open book. His morning meetings take place at a round table for a reason — and everyone, from the lowest employee to the highest, can weigh in and swap ideas. He openly admits to his employees when he doesn’t have the answers. He challenges them to find their own answers and bring them back to the group.
Perhaps more important, he admits when his decisions and actions were not correct, and fesses up. “I expect others in the group to do this as well,” he says. “It allows us all to learn from each other.”
Autonomy. The employees together decide their work week and workday; they set their own hours based on the work that needs to be done. They also price the 30,000-acre farm’s seed and chemicals, and make decisions on which hybrids to plant.
“It’s important that as many decisions as possible are made at the ground level,” Frahm says. They make big decisions as a group. For example, when it comes time to trade or purchase equipment, one or more of the team will do the research and pull together the numbers. They will then bring it to the group for input. Most of the time Frahm goes along with whatever decision they make.
This autonomy will help Frahm to set the farm up so that it can operate completely without his involvement for months at a time.
Training. “Education is a major factor holding farms back,” Frahm says. He spends time exposing employees to the technical side of the business by sending them for training. It is never a question if anyone is going to get additional training.
He wants each of his employees to view his farm as a career destination, not just a job. He consistently pulls employees from other industries or equipment dealerships. He’s looking for people who have the ability to listen and learn.
“I won’t hire somebody who thinks that they have all the answers,” he says. “We want most of our employees to be local, so that there are strong community connections. This helps with the face of the farm, but it also creates a connection so that the employees want to stay.”
Frahm builds trust by investing in education for his employees. It shows he believes they have a future in the business. He sends them to conferences, including TEPAP, of which five of his team members have attended. Christian Wilson, the youngest of his full-time employees, is going back to Kansas State to get a master’s in agribusiness, and Frahm is paying the tuition.
Accountability. Frahm believes peer accountability among employees is more powerful than accountability between a boss and employee. “Creating the team spirit and accountability creates pride in what they do,” he adds. Frahm’s management style not only gives the employees responsibility, but also holds each of them accountable.
“We created a system where we hire the employee, train the employee and equip the employee with tools,” he says, adding accountability starts at the top. “If the employee doesn’t perform well, it most likely was because he did not understand or he wasn’t properly trained.”
Tools. Technology plays a huge role on the farm, allowing Frahm to scale up without adding employees. Each person has an iPad, which provides a constant stream of data. Full data transparency among employees allows them to make decisions collectively as a group, but also on the fly during the day.
Experiences. Frahm believes in introducing his employees to new things and shared off-farm experiences. He has taken them — and their spouses — on cruises, golf outings and ball games, even cultural events such as symphonies.
These trips “allow them to recharge their batteries as a group,” he says. “It keeps the spouses happy, knowing that they have something to look forward to and spending time with their husbands.”