By Aerica Bjurstrom
Finding a good farm employee can sometimes be a challenge. As farms get bigger, owner/operators find themselves managing people more often than managing cattle. For people who have spent their careers managing generally predictable animals and crops, managing people can be a new challenge they haven't experienced before.
So what steps can a manager take to be a good employer while being fair and authoritative?
One resource many employers rely on is a book by author Steven Covey called, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." The book gives advice on how to be an effective person in everyday life, but those habits can also be implemented into being a good manager.
Habit 1: Be proactive. As a manager of a farm, being proactive can help prevent unforeseen problems with employees. Choose your behavior. Focus your attention on things you can control such as employee satisfaction. Some challenges like the weather are out of your control, so work to manage around those challenges and be productive and proactive.
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. Set goals for yourself and your employees. By setting goals and outcomes, your employees can work to achieve, rather than just working to work. Some managers find posting results of somatic cell counts and conception rates gives employees goals to achieve. Some feel posting results may hinder work output because jealousy and resentment may set in when not everyone is reaching the goals. Each set of employees is different, so find the balance and dynamic of your group to determine what will motivate them to reach your goals.
Habit 3: Put first things first. Time management is a key factor in managing your farm. Evaluate your day and consider what needs to be done today and what can wait. More importantly, why are some tasks more important than others? When you work with habit 1 and 2 in mind, you can focus on prioritizing your goals for your farm.
Habit 4: Think win-win. Win-win doesn't always mean everyone gets their way. Win-win usually includes compromise, cooperation and making hard decisions. As a manager, you're not always going to make a popular decision, but if your employees see the reason for it and how it can benefit them as well, making a tough call doesn't have to make you look like the bad guy. Helping employees see the tough call can benefit everyone will make for a happier crew.
Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Perhaps you've been teaching employees a certain way to feed calves or clean pens because that's what worked for you when you were doing that job. Teach your employees the procedures and have them explain to you how to do the job and why it is done that way. It shows they understand what to do and why. Be flexible. If an employee is doing something differently than you taught them, don't punish them for doing it wrong; first ask them why they are doing it that way. It is possible they found a better way to do it that saves time.
Habit 6: Synergize. Synergize is sometimes an overused buzzword, but when put into motion in management decisions, it can make your life easier. Synergize means working together to reach goals. Appreciate your employees' skills, personalities and characteristics instead of just wishing they'd be more like you and do it the "right" way. Diversity amongst workgroups is something to build on with creative ideas and new techniques.
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw. You are the saw; keep your management skills sharp to bring out the best in your employees. Being proactive and having a positive outlook doesn't just happen, you have to work at it. A strong manager not only teaches and empowers employees, but they also bring out the best in employees.
A strong farm manager works every day to improve production, but that can't be achieved without good employees following through with your plan. Make your plan clear and concise and trust your employees to do it the way you taught them. Always keep in mind that building a strong team takes practice.
Bjurstrom is the Kewaunee County Extension agriculture agent.