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Hiring and keeping the right employees

Robert Fears for Progressive Forage Published on 01 January 2018
Ned Tranel checks in with employee

Employee work ethics can result in either profit or loss for the forage grower, so it is wise to devote ample time to personnel management. You don’t want an inferior employee operating a $50,000 round baler.

“Finding, hiring, motivating and keeping good people is often neglected by small operations,” says Barry Dunn, Ph.D., president of South Dakota State University. “However, the fewer employees an organization has, the more dependent it is on the help it does have.”

Hiring process

“Before initiating the hiring process, anticipate and assess future labor and leadership needs,” says Ryan Rhoades, Ph.D., assistant professor – beef extension specialist, Colorado State University. “In the assessment, answer the following questions:

  • Where is the operation going?

  • How many people and what positions will be needed in the next several years?

  • How will the organizational structure evolve, and how will needs change over time?
  • What does your leadership pipeline need to contain today to ensure developments of leaders for tomorrow?

“After labor needs are identified, specifically define abilities needed for the current and future job openings in your operation. Defining a job based on the specific needs starts with development of a good job description.

“Basically, a job description should highlight expectations, required functions and ranges of wages,” Rhoades says. “It should help a potential candidate decide whether or not they are capable or interested in performing the specified duties before they apply for the job. A well-written job description is helpful in orientating and evaluating new employees after they are hired.”

Job descriptions help managers evaluate current employees as well as new hires. A good job description informs an employee what is expected by management and serves as a self-evaluation tool for measuring job performance.

If the forage growing operation has a reputation as a great outfit to work for, it will have a distinct advantage when trying to attract high-quality employees. This reputation is developed when management is willing to show employees they play a significant role in the overall success of the operation, and the manager is motivated to help individuals achieve success.

“Assess qualities and abilities of candidates through an interview process,” Rhoades says. “Ensure the right interviewers are conducting the candidate assessment. The best interviewers are often very familiar with the job yet self-confident enough in their own abilities to hire the best person. Additionally, these interviewers are not threatened by someone more talented than themselves.

“Experience has shown three people are a good number for interview panels, and candidates should meet with one interviewer at a time. Too many interviews can cause fatigue in candidates, and they may not express themselves as well at the end of the day as they do in the morning. Fewer than three interviewers may obtain an insufficient amount of information from candidates to make the right hiring decision.”

Keeping employees

One way to keep employees is to ensure new hires are integrated properly into the organization culture. Fully indoctrinate potential employees on the vacant position and its requirements during the interviewing process. Provide a tour of the operation and, if possible, ask people currently doing the job to explain it to the candidate. Discuss the written job description and ask candidates if they understand what is expected.

A new employee’s integration into the operation occurs more smoothly if he or she is paired with a veteran top performer for training and mentoring. If such a person doesn’t exist, the operation’s manager needs to perform these functions.

Integration means involving employees in planning processes. Invite them to attend and participate during annual meetings to update the operation’s business plan and to evaluate last year’s production performance. Ask for their opinions and listen to their suggestions. Involving employees in the planning and evaluation processes can improve job performance and incentivize assumption of responsibility.

After the new hire has been on the job for a few weeks, the supervisor should help the employee develop a job performance plan. The plan should contain goals for successfully completing various job tasks plus personal development objectives. Aid the employee in developing SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely.

A job performance review should be conducted between the employee and supervisor at least annually, and preferably every six months, during which both parties evaluate progress against goals. The supervisor compliments the employee on goals reached successfully and suggests areas where improvement is needed.

An important part of a job performance review is the employee evaluating the supervisor on people management skills. Methods of improving relations between the two parties are also explored.

Proper frequency of job performance reviews is determined by how well the employee is executing job responsibilities. If needed, job performance reviews might be conducted quarterly or more often. Frequent reviews usually occur when job performance is poor and the employee is in danger of being dismissed.

“You will keep the right people as long as they stay motivated – and employee engagement in the operation is necessary for motivation,” Rhoades says. “Engagement is a persistent, positive, motivational state of fulfillment in an employee characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption. A motivated employee thinks, ‘This is a great place to work because they expect you to perform like you own it.’”

The employee’s participation in the planning processes and working with a job performance plan helps motivate a person. Frequent praise on jobs well done is a great way to motivate people. John Zenger, chief executive officer and co-founder of Zenger Folkman, says positive feedback should occur five times more frequently than negative feedback for optimal performance.

“Motivational factors for employees include achievement, recognition for achievement, responsibility and growth/advancement,” Rhoades says. “Some ranches provide medical insurance, a vehicle, housing and, maybe, a freezer full of beef as motivational benefits. End-of-the-year bonuses based on the individual’s and operation’s performance are great motivators.”

Good employees are a positive influence on profits, so supervisors need to develop the human resource management skills required to hire and keep the right people.  end mark

PHOTO: Rancher Ned Tranel checks in with a long-time employee on the ranch near Roundup, Montana. Photo by Lynn Jaynes.

Robert Fears is a freelance writer based in Georgetown, Texas. Email Robert Fears

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