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10 Strategies to Manage and Motivate Farm Employees

Posted by Scott Anderson on Apr 13, 2016 5:34:12 AM

Accounting Software for Farming

Good farm employees are hard to find, and even harder to keep.

It seems that today, people just don't have the work ethic they used to. But you, as a farm manager, have a role to play too.

The default training system of many farmers is to throw an employee in a tractor and tell them to go. But that doesn’t make the employee successful, confident, or motivated.

Believe it or not, it’s easy to motivate people—if you have the right plan. Use these 10 strategies to keep work morale and ethic high on your farm.

1) Set/Discover Goals, Both Personal and Professional, With Your Employees

If you use no other strategy, at least use this one.

Start with a five-year goal. Find out where your employees want to be, not just in finances, but in “health, wealth, love, and happiness.”

Since every decision they make impacts their goals, they’re going to be motivated towards them. So understand their goals, and that will help you align their work with those goals, which brings me to my next point...

2) Align Their Goals With Doing High-Quality Work for You

Accounting Software for Farming

If one of their goals is financial and they want to be bumped up, offer an incentive. Maybe Steve’s making $15/hour now, but tell him that if he puts in four weeks of quality work, you’ll knock that up to $15.25.

Here’s another example. I’ve got one employee who loves to work out. I talked to him during harvest last fall, and he was stressed out because he didn’t have time to go to the gym.

I said, “Obviously, getting to the gym is one of your goals, so as we’re getting into the busy season, if you’re willing to work a little extra into the evenings, I’ll schedule somebody every other day so you can work out 3-4 days a week.”

He worked the same amount of hours in a week, but the hours shifted. It was a win-win: I got a more effective employee, and he was happier to do the work.

3) Create Training and Certification Programs for All the Processes You Want Your Employees to Partake In

Remember, if an employee fails or makes a mistake, it's your fault. Either he was mis-trained, or the communication wasn’t clear. You might get a couple of klutzes, but most are capable of doing the work with the right guidance.

So train them. Make sure they know how to start up each tractor safely, and how to accomplish the checklist. For example, have them check the oil daily and tire pressure once every week, write that down, and turn it into you. That way, you set up a system and keep them accountable to it.

4) Create Clear Expectations of the Job and What Is Required to Successfully Perform It

Accounting Software for Farming

I’ll keep this step simple: read The One-minute Manager. It’s 111 pages, so you can literally read it in an hour or two. It will give you a good system for making employment clear for your employees.

Basically, the idea is to create a one-page document explaining exactly what that employee is going to do for you, and make sure they understand it.

Then, meet regularly as things change.

5) Communicate Weekly With Management and Have Management Communicate Daily With Employees

I have a weekly meeting with my farm manager, and he meets with the employees both weekly and daily, during morning coffee.

The purpose of these meetings is that everyone would have a clear picture of daily and weekly goals, and what must be accomplished to reach them.

6) “Make Sure You Not Only Have the Right People on the Bus, but That Everyone Is in the Right Seat”

I borrowed this from Jim Collins. Obviously you don’t want negative, cancerous employees, so bring the right people onto the bus. But once they’re on, they also need to be in the right seats.

Match personal strengths with relevant jobs. For example, I had a guy who worked for me who wasn’t really tech-savvy. Showing him a monitor rocked his world, and he didn’t understand it. It wasn’t a good idea to have him drive a planter.

He wasn’t interested in learning the computers, and you don’t want to make people do what they’re not interested in (or suited for).

7) Have Everyone Take a Personality Test

Accounting Software for Farming

You and any managers need to know how to manage and avoid conflict. Personality tests are great for that.

You learn who works well together. You don’t want to put the wrong people on the same team. Try to keep strengths together or, sometimes, add a guy with a different strength to balance the team out.

There are a number of great personality tests, but StrengthsFinder is one of the best.

8) Understand the Key Motivational Factors for Each Employee and Use Those to Reward Good Work

If they’re motivated by money (and everyone is to a point), give out clear performance bonuses.

Or, if they love certain parts of the job, tell them to finish a few other things in their work and then you’ll give them a few days doing what they love.

9) Treat Your Employees Like Your Best Friends, and Respect Them

Sometimes, you might think of an employee as a pain in the neck.

But I always tell my managers that yes, he might be, but 1) we might be able to turn him around with training and 2) you don’t want to be doing his job and yours. So until we find a replacement or get him turned around, pretend he’s your best friend and focus on what they are doing right.

Some ideas: put their birthday on your calendar, interact with them on social media, or be there for them if they’re having problems (sick kids/wife, etc.).

10) Cut the Negative and Bad Eggs Immediately

Accounting Software for Farming

This one’s tough, but you absolutely have to “cut the bad eggs” on your farm. It’s business—it’s not personal.

When employees are negative or incompetent, they bring the whole morale down. Let them go, even if you have to step in and get the work done yourself. Always try to be one man overemployed so you’re never in that position. Then you can cut if necessary.


You won’t know what your employees’ goals are until you sit down and ask. You may assume they want money, but money only motivates up to a point. Some people are looking for a challenge, just as I am in using Cash Cow to diagnose farms that are in trouble.

You’re going to make mistakes. That’s OK. Still, run your own little experiments: do what’s best for you, and learn by trial and error.

When you figure it out, you’re going to have a pretty sweet operation.

Looking for more help with running your farm? Give us a call or shoot me an email.

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