Drive Productivity

Farm managers must properly motivate employees for best results.

Lori Culler
By  Lori Culler , DTN Farm Business Adviser
A successful growing season isn’t possible without motivated operators, livestock herdsmen or grain haulers, but keeping employees engaged and performing their best takes work, Image by Steve Woit

Farm managers are the leading factor driving the productivity of the team. By their actions and communication, they ultimately set the tone for the work environment. If you’re not happy with the results of the team, it’s time to do some healthy reflection and, as the leader, take actionable steps to ensure your employees are engaged and performing at their best.

A successful growing season isn’t possible without motivated operators, livestock herdsmen or grain haulers. Statistically, the top reason employees change positions is because of their supervisor. With the activity swirling in the day of a progressive farmer, it is easy to get stuck in a routine and lose focus on your team’s needs.

Here are six factors driving team performance. Measure yourself in each area to see how you would rate your performance and develop a plan to improve in your two or three weakest areas.

TRUST. Trust can be broken in a manner of seconds. Employees are not only looking for you to speak openly and transparently, but they are also looking for stability. It takes longer for the wound to heal from one quick spurt of temper in the heat of the harvest than one would think. Employees need to trust they can go to you with a problem, and you will work with them to solve it. When trust is low, employees tend not to mention problems that should be brought to your attention and cover up mistakes.

BE APPROACHABLE. Try to balance personal small talk among all your employees. Ask about their family or vacation plans. It’s easy on a small team to become closer to some employees than others. Employees are looking for the family-owned work atmosphere. It’s one of the best assets against other industries. Use that to your full advantage to keep long-term employees.

MAKE EMPLOYEES FEEL VALUED. Show team members they are important to your company by acknowledging their efforts and showing appreciation for feedback. Invest in them personally by providing training opportunities and sending them for agricultural certifications. Handing out new company T-shirts is an easy and cost-effective way to make your employees feel valued. It brings the team together. Host a family picnic or cookout, plan a trip to a nearby amusement park or organize a training activity.

SHARE THE PURPOSE. Employees perform better when they know the end goal. In farming, it is difficult to set a hard number of harvested acres per day, but establishing a target gets you higher performance than working without a goal. Reachable goals and even friendly competitions amongst each other are great motivators. Have a big dry erase board for harvest, or send a text each night with remaining acres so everyone knows how you are progressing in the season.

GIVE FEEDBACK IN THE MOMENT. Giving small feedback along the way sets the direction for future behavior. Thanking an employee for going the extra mile to assist a landowner encourages him or her to do it the next time. Same with the ideas employees bring to the table. Allow them autonomy to run with a new idea, and there will likely be more to follow. Feedback doesn’t have to be formal. Even a small reinforcement of what you like or a quick discussion of what you would like to see done differently goes a long way.

OPPORTUNITY TO GROW. It’s not just millennials who want promotions, it’s the desire of most dedicated employees. In a smaller operation, there are fewer opportunities to grow into a new role. Growth in terms of simply expanded responsibility or ownership in a certain area goes a long way. Learn what areas in which your employees would like to expand their knowledge or for which they have a passion, and tailor those responsibilities as they fit the farm.

Investigate what makes someone want to work hard for the organization. For each employee, it is something different. Once you determine what makes your employees tick, turnover will remain low.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lori Culler grew up on a vegetable and grain farm, and is founder of AgHires (, a national employment recruiting service and online ag job board based in Temperance, Michigan. Email her at


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