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The key to effective dairy farm recruitment

In October we continued our series of articles in British Dairying Magazine on farm labour.

Many farmers suggest there is skills drain as a lack of new entrants into the industry isn’t replacing the skills and experience of those retiring or simply deciding to exit farming as a career.

Paul Harris from REAL Success suggests there is one factor that continues to be the single biggest reason staff leave a farm or even the industry entirely. “It’s the way the boss speaks, behaves or communicates with his/her staff,” Paul says.

Here are 10 simple steps to consider for improved communication on your farm

1 . Take Time

Do you make time to have important conversations with your staff?  The easiest way to make your staff feel unimportant in your business is to prioritise other issues ahead of taking time to talk to them.  If you don’t make the time to listen, you’ll often find yourself making time for recruitment.

2. Listen Actively

Many staff report that no-one listens to their views or ideas. When did you last ask your staff for their opinions or invite them to contribute to strategy, protocols, or new ways of working? You don’t have to take everything a staff member says on board but if you never ask them, you could be missing out of their ideas and de-motivating your team.

3. Right Environment

The parlour, busy yard or in front of a noisy tractor are not usually the best place to have a good conversation.  Choosing the right setting can make a huge difference to the success of the communication.  A bacon sandwich and a cup of tea can often draw your team together so don’t be frightened to get the team together over food.

4. Start with ‘Why’

Communication often centres on what is needed and how it should be done.  But taking time to outline why a new project, change of process or investment is taking place, is far more likely to win the support of the team.  Ask them for their input too so that they feel buy-in to the process.

5. Social events

Even if you have a small team, time away from the farm or a barbeque in the summer months, can get people talking to each other, helping them feel that they are part of a team. Team building events run by external companies can also create stronger bonds and understanding between team members.

6. Staff Meetings

Do you tell your team how things are going on the farm through regular meetings?  Staff often complain about “poor communication” and refer to a lack of information about how things are going.  They work hard and yet have no idea if a farm is being successful or not. Regular staff meetings give you the chance to report back on how things are progressing, deliver important news or updates and gather ideas and feedback from the team.

7. Be Positive

Are your team aware of successes?  From celebrating great milk yield and calving results to low mastitis levels and cell counts, it’s good to thank the team when they are doing well.  And when you need them to focus on costs or efficiency, or changes on the horizon, they are far more likely to do so if you’ve spent time telling them about the positive results too.

8. Share Information

Not knowing what’s expected or having no idea of the aims, plans or performance of the business can be demotivating and discourages team alignment.  Provide details of farm performance along with other key performance indicators and be open with your data.  Your staff are then far more likely to be open with you when things get tough.

9. Personal Reviews

Taking the time to sit down once a year to conduct a formal personal review – often with an external facilitator, can improve the overall communication around the farm.  By simply asking them what’s going well and what’s more challenging for them, you’ll uncover potential business improvements, understand personal challenges, and discover simple ways to improve your processes.

10. Personality Style

You and every member of your team (including family members) has a unique ‘personality style’ and this directly effects how you talk, behave, and prefer to work.  The term “it was a personality clash” is something heard often at interviews when a candidate is asked why they are leaving their role.  But what does this mean?

There are several systems available to help you figure out the personality style of your team with most based around the work of Carl Jung, and his theory of archetypes. Simplified and then given colours or names to describe the personality traits, the systems will use a short test or questionnaire to establish the individual mix of the traits that suggest how a person is likely to respond in certain situations and, how they will prefer to be spoken to or approached by others.  For example, the VITA Profiling® system uses four types – ‘Visionary’, ‘Investigator’, ‘Team Maker’, and ‘Adventurer’ to help understand how people work and this information can be the key to better results, increased efficiency, improved morale, and the generation of new ideas for your farm.

Summary

Learning to communicate effectively isn’t fluffy, psychobabble. It is the hard reality of the primary cause of staff turnover across all sectors of farming. Our willingness to communicate effectively and regularly, combined with our understanding of personality differences, can be what ‘makes or breaks’ a team.