Home /  News /  Managing People on the Farm

Managing People on the Farm

Managing people is easy, right? To do it well we need soft skills, right? Wrong to both of those. It is not easy and the skills needed to manage well are not soft, in fact, they are often hard and take time, energy and commitment. There are huge amounts of research that show if you manage and lead people well, they will perform, which couldn’t be more accurate in the farming industry.

The performance, commitment and engagement of every employee is of huge importance to production and therefore profit, so getting this right is key. From finding a committed hard-working farm worker to motivating them through the season, the challenges of managing people in the farming sector is both complex and challenging. The reality is, farm work is often monotonous and physically hard. These two factors alone impact on boredom and fatigue. So, finding and retaining the right staff can be the most challenging aspect of farm management.

Managing people in the farming sector is also complex because of the following:

  • low pay for new farm workers
  • expectations of career progression
  • working in all weather conditions
  • working in isolation
  • unsociable working hours
  • often it is an intergenerational business in which influencing change can be difficult
  • many farmers end up being landlords also

As a farm manager, it is important to ask yourself the following questions: 

Do I encourage good working relationships with employees from the start?

We often find that employment relationships go wrong from the very start and this happens because good recruitment practices are not followed and more importantly inducting the person onto the farm and the way of working just doesn’t happen. Robust screening of candidates and good due diligence is a necessary step that should never be avoided. Spending time on this process will save many hours and a lot of money if it all goes pear shaped. Referee checking and good questioning techniques should be followed.

Do I create a motivating environment? 

A manager cannot personally motivate another person; however, they can develop a motivating environment which will directly impact on the employee. Avoiding de-motivating behaviours is also key, such as excessive supervision, insufficient appreciation, ignoring and lack of problem solving. It is important to ensure that as a manager you are always looking for opportunities to grow and develop your employees, ensuring that the accountabilities and delegated tasks are changed regularly to provide interest and motivation. There must be lots of opportunity for feedback both positive and negative as well as recognition of good work. Feedback can take place informally as part of the day, there is no wrong place to provide feedback – in a shed, over breakfast, in a vehicle… Farm employees often say they would work harder if they were told they were doing a good job every now and then, in fact, 46% of New Zealand employees want more positive recognition. Your planning and organisation as a leader will have a direct impact on your employees. Your leadership behaviours on the farm will need to include being supportive, seeking and encouraging different views, solving problems effectively and operating with a strong results orientation. As a leader you lead by example, whether you intend to or not.

Do safe practices happen every day?

Every day when your employees head out onto the farm you have to know that they are committed to safe practices, that they will keep themselves safe and that they will make the best decisions. One of the best ways to ensure this happens is to be the role model in everything you do and say. You can ensure that there is a safe working environment, that the right systems and processes are in place, however if you have a culture on the farm which supports shortcuts or following procedures only when others are watching then that is what you will get. In other words, it doesn’t matter how focused on compliance you are, your actions speak louder than words. Every accident and every injury cost both financially and personally. If you think safety is expensive, try having an accident.

Do your employees belong?

For most employees it doesn’t matter where they work or who they work for, they want to feel like they belong and that they are achieving. Belonging is about feeling valued and achieving is about knowing that they can get a good outcome based on a good understanding of the business and what the end goal is. Your employees will want to feel that they are a part of your business and that they are rewarded fairly for their contribution to it. Understanding where they fit in the big picture and the role they play is important to all employee’s motivation. Everyone needs to understand what is expected of them. If you view your employees as a labour unit, don’t expect them to perform. To be a good leader, it is important to be able to ask yourself the tough questions and learn from mistakes. Seeking advice from family, friends, neighbours and fellow farmers is a good starting point, but you also need to be aware of the impact of your actions.

Based on our experience of working with farmers on employment relations issues, here is our advice:

  • Ask before you act, don’t just react undoing something that is already done is often a lot more costly
  • Accept that managing people is not an easy task
  • Care about each of your team as a person – the benefit will be huge
  • Build a solid working relationship based on good communication and common understanding
  • Seek advice from those that fully understand employer obligations
  • Seek coaching and support on your leadership/management style and be open to receiving feedback
  • Get the right people at the start – don’t just fill the role

Always view your people as so much more than a labour unit. Without them you cannot succeed. To make a positive difference on your farm, consider the following three areas of your leadership style.

 And finally...do you?

  • Introduce employees to your business and your way of working?
  • Set employees up to be successful and if so, what does being successful mean to you?
  • Support your employees and clarify expectations?

Sign up to our newsletter

Thanks for signing up!

Tags HR Taranaki