Minding Ag's Business

Managing a Team is Key to Higher Production

Lori Culler
By  Lori Culler , DTN Farm Business Adviser
Engaged employees are more likely to perform their best work and be more productive. (Graphic by AgHires)

Business owners, both on farms and across all industries, want to capture higher profit margins. They want teams to produce at a higher level, with less turnover and more individuals thinking versus just doing their work. The secret recipe to achieve these results comes from two words, employee engagement. It's not just a fluff phrase someone in human resources made up, there are staggering statistics on the benefits of engaged versus disengaged employees.

Your employees can basically be put into one of three buckets: engaged, not engaged and actively disengaged. Engaged employees are emotionally committed to the organization and its goals. In short, they care about their work and they want to do well and help the organization succeed. These individuals go the extra mile, share the passion of the company and look for more ways to contribute than just performing their assigned roles. Engaged employees ensure they are focused on your landlords and how they would want things handled in the field. They will offer up new ideas, stay the extra time to do the job right, help in other areas, etc. According to Gallup, one of the leading trackers of employee engagement, roughly a third of employees, are actively engaged (32%).

Employees that are not engaged are not emotionally connected, they are simply putting in the time, for example, running through their tasks, but not go the extra mile. An unengaged employee notices a flat tire on the tractor, but then proceeds to head to the next field as if it were fine. Or, the employee has been hearing a funny noise in the truck, but since it was still running the employee never bothers to tell the mechanic, then in the heat of harvest the truck breaks down.

They are not as energetic, not willing to put in the extra effort, and certainly not adding any additional value to the team. Interestingly, half of employees fall in this sleep-walking mode of production (51%).

The last category is the most disturbing, it's the actively disengaged employees who are not focused on doing a good job, but also act out on their lack of satisfaction and disappointment in the company. These are your gossipers, your naysayers, the one who has the rebuttal and brings the rest of the team down. We've all had some employees on the farm who could do the job, but their attitude damages their production and the production of others around them. This group represents about one of five employees (17%) in a company.

Many people confuse employee engagement and employee satisfaction, assuming we need to aim to make everyone happy in their roles and everyone gets along outside of work. That couldn't be more of the contrary. Engagement comes from building a culture of success, where employees can bring up ideas, be part of solutions and share pride along with the owners on the accomplishments of the team.

We first need to identify where our current employees fall. Your goal is to get the disengaged employees moved up to the engaged status where their productivity increases. At the same time, identifying the actively disengaged individuals and placing them on a performance improvement plan with clear expectations and if that doesn't work, recruit new individuals to take their place. We often spend too much time on the bottom performers who are not going to be a long-term fit versus spending time on our top, engaged performers most likely to influence the bottom line the most.

If you are looking to take a deep dive into this area, there are companies that will provide you engagement survey questions to ask employees and will even take it a step further with management training. If you have a smaller group of employees and are looking to gain insight from your current staff, holding one-on-one conversations with each employee is a great way to get feedback and to gain a sense of each one's engagement to the business. Here are six suggested questions to ask each employee individually. This could be done over lunch or simply in your office.

1. Could you see yourself working here in five years? If no, or unsure, what would affect your decision for staying longer?

2. Do you have a clear understanding of what affects the business the most and do you know where we are heading as an organization?

3. Do you know what is expected of you when it comes to goals and focus areas?

4. Do you feel we (management) recognize your full potential and capitalize on your strengths? If not, how could we improve?

5. Are you proud of the company and being an employee of this farm?

6. If you could change one thing about the company, what would that be?

7. If you could grow/learn more in one area, what would that be?

With engaged employees producing over 20% more than less engaged employees and companies receiving revenues 2.5 times more than those that have poor engagement cultures, it comes as a surprise that less than one in four companies have an engagement strategy.

As we've discussed in previous articles, the unemployment rate is the lowest it's been, and the fight to retain good talent is harder than ever. Focusing on your culture and your current team is critical to the success of your farm. In our next column, we'll discuss how to increase employee engagement to boost productivity.


Editor's Note: Lori Culler grew up on a vegetable and grain farm and is the founder of AgHires (https://aghires.com/…) a national employment recruiting service and online ag job board based in Temperance, Michigan. Email lori@aghires.comand find other labor management tips under Resources at www.dtnpf.com.

(SK/ES)

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