Staff – the greatest asset on your farm?

The emphasis on improved efficiency and profitability on farm over the years has seen many innovations in technology, machinery and genetics. Yet for many the focus on staff has been inadvertently placed on the back burner.

The continued expansion, intensification, or diversification of farming businesses has meant that many units have employed, or will need to employ staff in the future. The topic ‘a skills gap in our industry’ is one that has been muted increasingly over in the recent past, with particular reference to the skills sets of the people coming into the industry. But what about the elephant in the room? Is there a skills gap when it comes managing the people coming into the industry and getting the best from this most valuable of resources?

We invited Paul Harris, an Employment Consultant at Real Success Ltd to run an Agricultural Staff Management Workshop for 25 of our Dairy and Poultry producers who employ between three and fifty staff. Paul specialises in the agricultural sector running seminars on staff training, farm recruitment and holds farmer discussion groups on how to get the best from employees.


The workshop entitled ‘The People Cycle’ focused on the three fundamental areas of how to recruit, keep and develop your staff.

Communication: Paul impressed upon the delegates the importance of communication and that it starts by listening. The group performed tasks which demonstrated to them how we hear so much yet actually listen to so little. Paul stated “when most people are listening they are only really waiting to speak”

He showed the team some simple techniques that enabled them to collect and process lots more information than they could before. One such technique was to repeat what you were being told in your head. This focuses your mind and enables you to get engaged in the conversation. As the profiling would outline later, some personalities struggle to stay interested in detail but for the sake of communication with your team, truly listening to them is critical.

Recruitment: Paul then covered the many reasons why recruitment can be so difficult, how the process is improved with good advertising and interview methods and that many would benefit from learning how to professionally conduct an interview. Paul explained “Many famers will find themselves as the interviewer but with barely any experience let alone training in such a pivotal area to their business” With a more targeted recruitment plan you can find an employee with the skills, knowledge and attitude you need in your business. That is not enough on its own. Paul impressed upon the delegates “It is a great starting place, but to truly harness your staff you need them to be aligned to your business”. If your team are all aligned to the farms ethos and goals then they will pull in the same direction, work for each other and then you will really get the best out of them.

Empowerment: Increasing individual’s responsibility makes them feel more a part of the business. Use better listening skills and communication tailored to that individual to appraise and motivate staff.  One farmer commented that training staff was annoying if they then left for another job. However, it was suggested that this meant you had a better employee for his time with you rather than a poor one with no training. “If someone leaves your farm better at their job than when they arrived then you must be doing something right.” Empower them and really get to know them as individuals, their family and what makes them tick.

Involve the farm team in the decision-making process, providing further training, and acknowledge their personal goals. By doing this, the whole staff team feel valued and personally involved in the business.
With much to think about the delegates then turned the focus on themselves, by looking at their own character profile. Using a simple but reliable profiling system created by Paul, a ten-minute exercise created a picture of the individual farmer, highlighting what motivated them and outlining their strengths and weaknesses.

Four differing types of character traits were identified named Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Depending as to how much of each trait was highlighted in your profile, gave an indication as to your underlying drivers and preferences.

These profiles allowed Paul to demonstrate how each individual liked to be spoken to, how they communicated with others and what they brought to a team. In taking this on board, the delegates could see how that should be applied to their staff to get the best from them.

The session was rounded up with practical ways in which the farmers could use the techniques they had learned to impact on their own businesses. The discussion and banter throughout the day indicated the goal of making farmers think more about how their employees and how other people view them had been achieved.

The Inspire workshops that we run are designed to target key aspects of farming businesses, so that you, our customers, are able to access the most relevant information available on topics and challenges to your farm. We are looking to run another Agricultural Staff Management Workshop later in the year, so if this would be of interest them please let us know, also if there are any other areas you feel would be of interest then please don’t be shy… If you’re thinking it, then you won’t be the only one.