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Leadership

Course: Leadership | Last Updates: 7th October 2015

 
Alistair Gibb
Consultant, Cedar Associates
Biography >>
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So much of farming is out of your control, but those who seize the reins in planning, process and people are often the most successful.

Farm businesses focus on financial planning, budgets, cash flow and cost control but too little is given to the people and teams that deliver the day to day operations – and the bottom line.

Over the past 20 years arable farm businesses have become larger with fewer staff and bigger machinery; 400ha is now equivalent to 2,400has 20 years ago in economy of scale. Yet, the reverse is true of livestock businesse. There are fewer, the businesses are larger, but there are bigger teams of staff to manage. In 1999 the average size of a contract-managed dairy herd at LKL Services was 200 cows with two staff. Now it is 650 cows with five or six staff.

Effective leadership and management of staff has now become a more critical ingredient of business success for a number of reasons. Staff are one of the most costly resources, they are more important to delivering the right outcomes yet they are commonly at risk of being under-valued.

Gallup identified from a survey that poorly managed teams are on average

  • 50% less productive
  • 44% less profitable than well-managed teams.
  • 20% of workers leave their jobs because of how they are managed

This leads to further losses of performance and also significant costs (about £3,000 – £7,000) of recruitment and retraining.

Attracting and retaining staff is one of the big challenges facing the industry in order to provide and secure increasing food supply to more discerning customers and a growing population.

Applying leadership and management in practice

Your staff can help to increase productivity and profitability by identifying:

  • the  skills of individual team members
  • training and development needs
  • the impact of future changes to the business
  • clear goals
  • who to empower and increase responsibility
  • a review and plan performance with each team member annually
  • clear targets and standards to match appropriate staff coaching (and challenging)

Looking at each aspect in more detail:

Assessing skills

To achieve the full potential of staff and meet the business needs a helpful process is to draw up a list of jobs performed by staff and evaluate each member of staff’s performance in the job. It is then easy to see what skill gaps there are in the team, where you lack cover during holidays, time off or sickness and identify who needs skilling up and where the priorities for individual and team development lie.

Example of a skills matrix from BPEX Human Resources Toolkit

T = trained
S = skilled
E = experienced

 

Farrowing house

 

Name

 

Name

 

Name

 

Name

 

Can make suitable adjustments of environment

 

E

 

E

 

S

 

T

 

Manage hut location and Bedding

 

E

 

E

 

S

 

T

Handles sows safely and correctly

     E

E

S

T

Can conduct unit pre-farrowing routines on sows

E

E

T

T

Knows and provides correct feed/water for sows

E

E

T

T

Can identify imminent signs of farrowing

E

E

T

T

Knows normal/abnormal signs of farrowing

E

S

T

T

Can respond to sow’s need for assistance

E

S

S

T

Can safely and properly use Prostaglandin injection

E

S

S

T

Can take and interpret animal temperatures

E

S

S

T

Carries out all tasks hygienically and safely

E

S

S

 

Understands environmental needs of sow and litter

E

S

S

T

Can revive weak/cold piglets

E

S

T

 

Alternative means of scoring performance can be used such as red, amber, green to reflect level of performance or using a percentage rating



Identify training and development needs

Training and development needs can be derived from various sources over and above the performance assessment described above

It is worth looking ahead to changes that could impact the business and the skills needed to address these such as:

  • Introduction of new husbandry methods or technology/machinery is likely to have a training need
  • Bringing new staff into the business
  • Changes in legislation (health and safety, crop protection) can lead to new ways of working
  • Areas where performance standards need raising or refreshing (combine settings, AI refresher course for livestock breeders)


Set clear goals

Staff will have difficulty in following if they don’t know where they are going. Effective leadership provides direction with clear goals. Sharing the bigger picture of longer term plans and goals gives context to what staff are working towards. Defining individual goals or contribution to bigger goals gives a benchmark to measure performance against. Credit can be given where goals are met or a review of what held back performance and what can be done to change this.  For example, longer term goals might be: “We will have been successful when ______

  • The ______ enterprise we farm has doubled in size by ______
  • We are contract farming 30% more land by ______
  • We are direct retailing 50% of our produce by ______
  • We are selling 80% of produce in a premium market by ______
  • We have diversified and started a new enterprise which is delivering a profit by ______

Goals for individual members of staff should relate to work under their direct control. For example: “You will have been successful when______

  • Producing x pigs/year to 75kgs.
  • Achieving x p/litre profit on milk produced
  • Achieving work rates of x has when spraying, drilling, combining

Empower people and increase their responsibility

As farming businesses have increased in size and scale people are often more spread out across the business and you can’t be everywhere at once. Giving greater control and ownership of work releases time from managing staff provided people have been developed to a stage where they have the competence and the confidence to take ownership of an area of work. Build confidence to make decisions by not sorting out everyone’s problems instead ask for their input on what they would do. Nine times out of 10 they will have the right answer. In today’s technological age it’s too easy for staff to pick up a phone to ask for decisions or have you sort out a problem rather than take initiative in areas they have the capability to take care of themselves. 

Review and plan performance with each team member

This is a good opportunity to tie together the aspects explored earlier. Staff appreciate knowing where they stand and what’s ahead of them. Looking back over the past year you can review their contribution to what’s gone well and on the flip side where can things can be changed or improved. This can link to earlier planning you have done on setting goals, identifying training needs and developing responsibility.

Other aspects of work to discuss could include what ideas they have to make work easier and more efficient. It can be surprising what staff come forward with when they are encouraged, listened to and see some of their suggestions being implemented. Checking on their ambitions or career plans could identify their potential to grow in the business or identify how you can support them to move on ultimately to a role you may not be able to provide.

When done well and in the right spirit this should be a powerful motivational tool to increase job satisfaction. It creates a forum which staff value and look forward to when they see change and investment in them resulting from the discussion.

 

Case Study

Tony Wright who manages 1,500 sows for Shedden Farms introduced staff appraisals with his team of 12. Since setting up the annual discussions he has seen staff morale improve as well as pig productivity. Most significantly:

  • an improvement of 10% in conception rates to 90%
  • reduction of 4% in mortality of piglets at farrowing down to a target of 9%

Tony’s cut his working week by 15 hours as the team took on more responsibility and their timekeeping has improved. The team is more motivated and working well together

Reviewing and agreeing goals with individuals, delegating responsibility and investing in staff training has been key to the success now achieved in the business.

Coach and challenge staff to achieve targets and standards

Like a sports coach getting the best performance from their athletes or teams, farm businesses can reap the same benefits of developing performance. With clear goals in place this is where regular monitoring of how work is being done on a day-to-day basis can alert the need to address shortfalls in work standards and recognise specific areas for improvement. These are commonly addressed on the job and can often be done with a few questions to review

  • What is happening?
  • Why it has happened?
  • What needs to change or how can it be improved?

Summary

Involving and engaging staff builds commitment, delivers greater business performance and increases job satisfaction. Staff feel more valued in their contribution while they add value and become more valuable to the business.

Case study

LKL Services were established in 1951 but have grown considerably as a business since 1999 and provide labour solutions to take the headache out of staff management. A major contribution to their success in this area has been investing in leadership development of their herd managers as herd size and staff numbers grew. George Gordon managing director for LKL Services highlights that “by investing in training LKL Herd Managers stay in post on average for seven years against an industry average of less than three years”.

This has subsequently reduced the people problems their contract managers had to resolve on farm. As a result contract managers are looking after more contracts and help communications flow smoothly with less need for mediation between Herd Managers, business owners or their teams. Their contracted herd managers have increased team and business performance through more effective leadership and assertiveness

 

 

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