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Tips on staff management: Spending too much time at the coalface?

Ian Lindsay from LKL Services provides staffing consultancy for farmers across the globe from Africa to Brazil and the middle East. Aly Balsom asks him what UK farmers can learn from his travels.

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Q: UK dairy farmers often say staff management is one of the biggest challenges they face...

Why do you think that is and is it the same across the world?

Most businesses, regardless of whether they are in agriculture, tend to say staffing and looking after people is their biggest challenge.


In farming, the biggest difference is that UK farmers tend to say they have a problem and just knuckle down, rather than those outside the UK see a challenge, take a business minded approach and address it. Over here, even the biggest farms tend to begrudge being business men and spend too much time at the coalface which means they end up micromanaging which creates staff management challenges.


Q: What do you think are the key success factors...

to getting the most from a farm team?

Getting the right climate is key. That’s different to the right environment. Climate is a deep rooted mentality which is far more crucial than environment such as nice staff facilities.


To make a good climate you need; communication, a feeling of involvement and appreciation, and responsibility and accountability. In a survey of farm employers and workers, these things ranked highest with employees, with wages appearing half way down the list.


Communication is the foundation of a true team. Aim for a weekly team meeting, even if it is 15 minutes on a Monday morning talking about the week ahead. Notice boards with SCC and heat detection rates (written in dual languages if needs be) also helps communication issues. And remember, to truly communicate, you need to listen twice as much as you talk.


Also, keep staff informed during the good and bad times so they truly feel part of the business. Training and development is also a huge motivator as it shows you have got a vested interest in them.


Q: Family dynamics can cause challenges on family farms...

how should these farms structure their working arrangement to be fair and ensure everyone is happy?

The hardest person to manage is yourself. You have got to learn to step back. Among family farms, having clearly defined roles and deciding who’s boss is crucial. In situations where family farms employ one or two staff, ensure employees know who to report to as it can create issues if two brothers for example tell them to do different things. On purely family run farms, it is worth sitting round a table with an outside party so they can help set out on paper who has responsibility for what and how issues are reported.


Q: You have travelled the world and seen many different systems...

could you highlight two examples of farm systems that are getting staff management right and explain what UK farmers could learn from them?

You get good and bad everywhere, but overall, in terms of the best approach to motivating and retaining staff, it’s the New Zealand system as they have an open book policy. They are very cost focused and in order to get staff behind them, all employees know costs of grazing, milk price and feed costs. In Saudi Arabia, all the middle-tier workers also know the cost of the diet so they’re more careful at not spilling feed and doing a better job at mixing and delivering to the cows. When you have this open book mentality it makes people think. The best UK guys do the same.


Whatever system you have got, what’s the harm in sharing costs and getting staff involved? It means if you need to improve efficiencies, everyone knows why.


Q: Making sure everyone works to the standard expected can be a common gripe on farm...

what would you suggest to help get everyone singing off the same hymn sheet?

People not pulling their weight can easily demotivate a team. By making sure everyone is trained and protocols are in place, it means people can be held accountable and disciplined.


If you want staff to buy-in to protocols, get them involved in formulating them and make sure they are written down. And when new staff start, rather than giving them rushed instructions, give them a farm handbook - that’s then their bible they can refer back to. If you have foreign labour, translate protocols and notice boards into their language. It is easy enough to do in Google translate.


Bonuses can also be a good reward for a job well down, but should not be a motivator for a good job in the first place. Bonuses linked to net profit is all encompassing and is being used more and more

About Ian Lindsay

Ian Lindsay is business development director for LKL Services. In the UK he is responsible for looking after recruitment for dairy clients in Lancashire and Cumbria. He also heads up the LKL Dairy Management Academy. His overseas work takes him across the globe where he heads up recruitment and staff and business consultancy for new and existing livestock businesses.

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