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How do you rate as a people manager?

How do you rate as a people manager?
Regardless of the size of your farm, there are certain practices every business manager should implement to be successful at managing labor.

Most farmers would say they know what it takes to be a good manager of cows; there are some easy markers to reflect how well someone is managing their farm: reproduction rates, animal health, and milk production. But what does it take to be a good manager of people? If you are managing employees, how do you rate how well you are doing?

Good communication is key to being a successful manager of people.

Regardless of the size of your farm, number of employees, or how long you've been a manager, there are certain practices every business manager should implement to be successful at managing labor on the farm. Listening, feedback, leadership, and training are key skills and tools that are important for any manager to have in their human resource management toolbox.

These skills and tools also benefit managers because they contribute to an employee's job motivation. Motivation is one of the biggest challenges to human resource management on farms, according to the 2013 UW-Extension Human Resource Management on Wisconsin Farms Survey. Motivation job factors such as, involvement, achievement, growth, responsibility, and recognition, are characteristics that strongly influence employee's drive to achieve the goals of the business. By implementing the following four practices in your farm business, not only will you be a more successful manager, but will be able to encourage these motivation job factors, thereby increasing your employee motivation.

*Listening is the foundation of good communication. And good communication is key to being a successful manager of people. While many people focus on how to say what you mean, it is just as important to be able to listen to what others are telling you. And listening is not just about using your ears, but focusing your whole body on what is being said to you. This is called active listening.

Why focus on listening? Besides the fact that it encourages clear communication, it also helps you develop a better working relationship with your employees. People feel more appreciated, cared for, and understood when they are listened to. Good listening also creates a sense of trust and openness, allowing for an easier time communicating when having more difficult conversations.

*Good feedback. Providing clear, concise, and respectful feedback is another key aspect of good communication. Good managers know the value and importance of effective feedback. They also realize that feedback should be more than just addressing what's going wrong. Positive feedback is just as vital for employees to grow and develop.

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Feedback can be given in various ways: formal or informal, written or verbal, in a performance review or during a side conversation. Effective feedback tells an employee how they are doing, where they have improved, and offers constructive suggestions for improvement where needed.

*Good leadership. Everyone has a leadership style: a set of the same leadership behaviors they default to regardless of the situation. Your leadership style determines how you interact with employees and how they perceive you as a manager. Do you know your default leadership style?

Remember, no one style is better than the others, but ideally managers should use a mix of the styles depending on the situation. For example, people generally don't like the coercive style and it tends to inhibit growth and development, but sometimes when discipline is an important and necessary tool in managing difficult employees, it can be a very useful style to utilize.

*Proper training. Similar to the previous three human resource management practices, training needs to be an on-going process rather than a one-time activity. All employees, regardless of experience level, can benefit from – and often want – training opportunities. Training is a way employees can grow and develop in their job, improve performance, and increase their confidence. Remember training is not just about building skills, but changing attitudes too. A manager can teach skid steer safety practices to employees but without an attitude of valuing safety, the new knowledge will not be effectively used. Training can be as informal as reviewing proper milking procedures during an employee's shift, or as formal as taking employees to an educational workshop. Regardless, managers should provide regular training opportunities to employees based on need and interest. 

As a relatively small investment, training results in more skilled workers and a more efficient labor force. Offering continuing training also improves employee and employer relationships, because employees tend to feel more appreciated when their managers offer opportunities for them to grow and develop. 

Blazek is the Dane County Extension dairy and livestock agent.

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