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Three ways to retain good employees

Be a coach, not a boss.

Problem: What else can I do to retain my good employees?

I’ve farmed for a lot of years and as the farm’s leader, I work hard to make sure we implement best practices. Apparently, that’s not enough for those currently working for me. They seem to have expectations I don’t understand. It’s so hard to get good help nowadays, and I really don’t want anyone to leave. They are paid well, they know their jobs, and we have annual reviews. Why isn’t that enough? - Submitted by email from R.S.


Good for you for recognizing there are expectations and discontent among your work team that need to be addressed. You know that something must change to meet the farm’s goals, get the work done, and build loyalty among the team.

What you may not want to know is that you, as the leader, have the choice to change your current behaviors to get this done. I’m privileged to speak at events for young and beginning farmers and ranchers across the United States, and I’ve also consulted with hundreds of families of multiple generations. Here are three things I’ve learned.

1. Employees work well when they have a coach, not a boss.

Our traditional way of coaching in agriculture, “Watch and then you’ll know,” or “Get out of my way … I can do it quicker,” or “Read my mind,” needs to transform to specific leadership clarity. As a true coach, you will make sure employees understand their jobs (expectations are clear) and have the tools and resources to do the work. Plus, you will have a way to hold yourself and your employees accountable.  

2. Employees prefer frequent feedback, not just an annual performance review.

The usual approach is often, “Assume you are doing a good job, and I will let you know if you’re doing something wrong.” Yet, the way we let them know what’s “wrong” has not always been in the best interest of the business or the individual.

Instead, have ongoing conversations that include frequent updates on progress, correction, praise, and appreciation. You will ask, “How can I or others help you do your job better?” These conversations don’t require much time, but they do require a commitment from you, the leader, to be intentionally present and initiate those updates.

3. Employees are looking for a job in a business that is inspiring, rewarding, and consistent with their personal and family goals.

This is a two-pronged reality. First, you need a business that has a clear purpose and working environment that daily renews their motivation. Employees understand why you are in business and what they are to do, and they have daily interaction that is positive for individuals and business growth.

The second requires you, as a leader, to understand what is important to each employee. This might be flexible time to attend their children’s activities, opportunities to participate in training sessions to grow their skills and knowledge, or compensation based on the real value they bring to the business, not just loyalty of years worked. You’ll need to ask to know. I’ve learned that strong leaders know they’re in the people business and that it’s much better to have a satisfied, energized work team than to always be looking for new employees.

Jolene Brown is a professional speaker, author, farmer, and family business consultant. She shares her passion, experience, and fun-filled spirit with farmers and ranchers across North America. Her tested business tools provide leadership and management solutions for the people who feed, clothe, and fuel the world.

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