PEOPLE can be one of the biggest assets to a farming business, or a liability.
The recent DairySA conference addressed this topic under its theme People, Production, Technology: getting the right mix.
The Right Mind International consultant Jill Rigney, Brisbane, said finding and managing staff could be a big part of ensuring the business was on the path towards its goals.
As part of her talk, she asked employers to consider “would you work for you?”
She said part of this process was to assess the business’s culture and values.
“What’s acceptable and not acceptable?” she asked. “All businesses will have a culture, and you need to make sure it’s the one you want.
"You can have the best plans and strategy, but you need the culture to implement it.”
Ms Rigney said it was also important to have these values and culture in mind when hiring.
She said hiring was often a mix of character versus competence, and sometimes there was too much emphasis based on competency.
“Skills are important but they are not necessarily the only thing,” she said.
“With character, do they fit the business or will they cause toxicity or stress?
“When finding the right staff, you may have to get out of your own zone, own area, maybe own industry to find the right people. There is nothing wrong with head hunting.”
Once hired, Ms Rigney said the best performance could be achieved with a system of stress and relief, with the latter a necessity.
“Stress is good but rest is essential,” she said.
Providing feedback to staff was one key area where many could fall down.
“We have a tendency to only give feedback when we screw up,” she said.
“We need to give positive feedback.
"And accountability can be difficult if you don’t have set goals.”
Rewards could come in many forms, with humans driven by different things, and not just money.
“Be creative,” she said.
"You need to have conversations and discover what is important to your employees.”
Ms Rigney said one of the biggest tools was communication.
“The biggest problem with communication can be the illusion it has taken place,” she said.
“All across Australia, agriculture does struggle to have these conversations.”
Two Western Victorian dairyfarming operations have put their focus on proper process and recognition to keep good staff.
The 2012 winners of the Great Southwest Dairy employer of the year award, Stephen and Tania Luckin, Heywood, Vic, grew their dairy business from 200 cows to a 520-head herd, but wanted to make sure employees were a priority.
Mrs Luckin said they decided to focus on the “three Rs”.
“Recruitment, retention and retrenchment – if you do the first two well, there is less need for the last one,” she said.
Mrs Luckin said it was important to start the recruitment process with a detailed position description, then find the right person to fit.
The business has a thorough induction process, which “makes sure everyone is on the same page”.
It includes a folder with physical maps of the property, a list of goals and values for the farm, and documented procedures.
She said monitoring staff could be awkward but a clear position description helped the process.
“Written farm systems and processes save headaches and give clear and defined responsibilities,” she said.
“Finding out what makes staff tick helps retention.”
Mrs Luckin said farmer member groups could often help with legal advice during retrenchment, but it was important to be fair, respectful and transparent.
“With retrenchment, you can bury your head in the sand, but if you recognise an issue, it’s best to deal with it as soon as possible,” she said.
“Your former employees are your best or worst advertisement, depending on how you treat them on exit.”
Andrea and Bruce Vallance, Nirranda, Vic, said the right people were an important part of their business, and it was important to reward them.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the right people,” Mrs Vallance said.
This includes mixing up the milking roster to give workers the opportunity to sleep in or spend time with their families.
Rewards for staff can be as simple as Christmas hampers or lunch at the pub, through to more creative ideas such as racing hot laps, deep sea fishing trips and helicopter joyrides.