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Ag's HR Coach
Tuesday, April 23, 2019 2:45PM CDT
By Lori Culler
DTN HR Columnist

When it comes to improving performance and retaining top talent in our competitive landscape, employee engagement needs to be one of your farm's top initiatives.

An engaged employee is 21% more productive than a less-engaged employee and a highly engaged employee is 87% less likely to leave the organization. High levels of energy, commitment and performance from our employees lead to an increased bottom line.

The return on investment (ROI) on improving employee engagement is higher profitability, fewer errors on the farm and more creative problem solving. It's not about ensuring they are happy every day and enjoy every minute of their job; rather, it's about having employees that are deeply committed to the success of your operation.

In March, our Ag's HR Coach column looked at how to manage a team to higher production by asking employees questions to see how engaged they are in the business.

In this second part of the two-part package, we look at five practices you can implement with relatively low cost and investment of time to help keep employees engaged.


Give your employees autonomy to lead projects that will affect the business. This allows employees to grow their knowledge and experience while adding variety in their work from their day-to-day responsibilities. Align an employee's natural talents to useful projects. If you have someone who is very detailed and organized, designate that person to reorganize the shop, adding labeling and shelving as the person sees fit. Or create employee-led safety committees to implement internal training or improvements to comply with safety standards. Have someone create a landlord newsletter or maintain the company Facebook page. There are endless amounts of apps to assist with communication and tracking progress; consider having a team of employees research apps that might be useful for the farm. The extra bonus of employee-led projects is the team is more apt to support what ideas they have developed.


Employees are looking to continuously learn and gain knowledge. It benefits the farm when employees have more perspective on what's going on in the industry and what other progressive farms are implementing. Consider sending them to industry seminars, tradeshows and workshops. The value comes when you hold a discussion when they return to find out what they learned, found interesting and what ideas could be applied to the farm. Also consider outside-the-industry training, such as management training, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, or the 5S technique (refers to five steps: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain). This helps employees bring in ideas from other industries that can be applied to the farm.


A big part of whether employees are engaged or not largely depends on the interaction they have with their direct manager. To retain top talent, managers must be strong leaders and great coaches to drive the best performance. Those skills don't always come naturally to everyone. Get training for your managers, or perhaps even yourself, on how to improve your leadership skills. I've been contacted by farms who want us to hire a manager because, although they have an individual that is great on the farm and execution of work, that person lacks leadership ability. Build your bench strength by training your next level employees below the management level.


When a team is connected, the employees' performance can thrive together. Foster good working relationships amongst the team and build an environment where it's okay not to be perfect. Build a culture where everyone's strengths are recognized and flaws are enjoyed. Besides building a cohesive team through day-to-day interactions, treat employees to fun events outside of work, whether you take the team to a ballgame or host a picnic for the families. Celebrate wins and successes along the way, whether it's a new yield record or simply harvest is complete for the year. Celebrate the hard work everyone has put in. Another great way to connect is to have a service project the team could work on together, such as volunteering or perhaps even host for a charity.


High performing employees want to have the tools and resources to succeed. Let's say you have implemented a new tracking system in the field, and it has some glitches that continually arise. If we don't work to try to fix the issue for the operator, it ends up being a daily point of frustration. Same thing with having the right equipment to perform employees' jobs and conduct in-the-moment repairs. Ask your employees, after planting season, what tools and resources did they need that would have made their jobs more effective during planting.

Focusing on your employee engagement is an ongoing effort. Continuously check-in with staff and conduct self-evaluations. Answer these questions as a management team to see how you are doing:

-- Does everyone know where we are heading as a company and what matters most to helping us get there?

-- Does everyone know their role; do they have the tools/resources to do their best in that role?

-- What activities have we done to increase the knowledge base of the team?

-- Do employees have a voice and are those voices heard by the management team?

-- Are we maximizing the unique talents of our team members?

-- What's the trust level between management and team?

-- Have I spent time individually with each employee the past four to five months to discuss these things?

When we are talking with candidates about potential jobs, they constantly ask us questions about our client's culture and what is it like to work there. We need top talent for our operations to stay competitive and we can only attract and retain top talent if we have built a culture focused on employee engagement.


Editor's Note: To see six questions you can ask employees to get feedback and to gain a sense of each one's engagement in the business, see Lori's March column "Managing a Team is Key to Higher Production" at https://www.dtnpf.com/….

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.


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