Ag's HR Coach

Getting Employees to Listen

Lori Culler
By  Lori Culler , DTN Farm Business Adviser
A common complaint among farmers is their employees just don't listen. Rather than focusing on improving an employee's listening skills, Ag's HR Coach Lori Culler suggests cultivating an environment that encourages employees to think problems through. (DTN photo by Jim Patrico)

How do I get my employees to listen? It's an interesting request I hear often at farm shows and conferences. Many are fed up with employees not listening to their clearly stated steps. I even had one participant say, "I literally give each step a number, and they still miss steps."

What drives an employee's behavior at work, including their ability to listen, stems from how well you perform as a leader. There are extreme cases where employees just can't be saved, but more often it's good employees behaving unfavorably because we've created an environment that encourages the exact behavior we don't want to happen.

There are ways to improve employees' listening and understanding of the tasks they are given. Explaining the "why" behind your requests and sharing knowledge behind decisions will help improve listening. You can also maximize the use of technology to ensure everyone is on the same page, such as sending out instructions in writing, to help keep things in check.

But even if you get really good at having employees listen to every step, is that really what you want?

If you are the only "thinker" on the team, and all direction, decisions and tasks come from you, eventually you will get what you created: a team of employees that simply have stopped thinking. Employees will react to the environment you create as an owner. If you are a "just do it how I say" manager, you will get a team that only does what you say. The challenge in farming is there are so many factors that can change in a moment and that should trigger a change in direction. But if you create the wrong environment, employees will keep charging ahead to get A, B, C done as you said, sometimes to the detriment of the farm.

These are competitive times in agriculture, and if you are the only leader on the team, you'll limit how far you can take your business. One person can only be in one place, only do so much, only think of so much. To expand your limits, you need to build a team of leaders.

The phrase "building leaders" is often interpreted as "growing managers," and many farmers are concerned they don't have a lot of spots for managers on their farm. But developing leaders on your team simply means developing individuals who take ownership of their tasks and are an impactful contributor to the company. They give that extra step. I have leaders on my team that don't manage anyone. They manage their department, think outside the box and are passionate. Their leadership over their responsibilities is not only an infectious attitude for other employees, but also pushes our company to new heights.

On the farm, when you build a team of leaders, it's a ripple effect that bleeds through the whole farm. Fewer mistakes are made because employees are taking more care and stopping to think before they act. Employee longevity increases because they are engaged at work and enjoy showing up each day and they will be less likely to look at or take another job. You will have employees helping you solve problems to daily challenges and suggesting new approaches.

The first step to developing a team of leaders is to listen. Ask employees what hinders them in their role. Ask their opinion on how to approach a problem. Ask them for ways to improve communication during planting. You will need to be the one leading the charge to get them engaged. It doesn't mean you need to take every idea, but go with one or two ideas, and you will start to see more come your way without having to tug them out.

Give a little power to your employees by creating self-driven teams in areas you would like to see improved, whether it's a group of employees that focus of safety on the farm, or you want them to rearrange the shop. Giving your team authority in certain areas will have them fully buy-in to seeing it through.

How do we get them to start listening? We start listening and engaging with employees in different ways than we have been in the past. The real question isn't how do we fix them, but how do we fix us, the employers, that drives better results.


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.com and find other labor management tips under Resources at www.dtnpf.com.

(KD/AG)

Lori Culler