Keeping Talent

By Lance Woodbury on January 31, 2018

Having worked with some great management teams in agricultural family businesses over the years, I’ve been reflecting on what the owners do to keep outstanding people in their organizations. Here are three tangible ways owners keep the best talent.

1. Give them room. The best operations give their people a chance to make the decisions that
affect them and their work. This means helping managers understand the goal, then giving them
leeway in determining how best to meet that objective. For example, the team member might
decide when and where to move cattle based on grazing and weight gain objectives, what fields
to harvest next based on logistics, and how best to direct other people so the work gets done
timely. They are involved in decisions about equipment purchases and trades, included in the
process of seed selection and crop rotations, calving schedules and even the hiring of new staff.
2. Provide resources. “Resources” applies to everything from compensation to time to tools to
knowledge. It doesn’t mean that the best operations have an open checkbook, or are always at
the top of the pay scale. Rather, it means that decisions involving time, money, information,
technology and people are approached strategically. They ask about the highest and best use of
an asset. They look broadly at the pros and cons of financial decisions and share information.
They think about both the tangible and intangible benefits of their strategy, for example, how
technology investments can provide a return and attract a younger generation to the business.
They are fast-paced but take time to communicate and get on the same page. And they invest in
the development of their people, through conferences, peer groups and educational opportunities
like TEPAP or The Progress Coach.
3. Demonstrate care. As I look at the businesses we’ve served over the years, it becomes clear
that the owners care for their people, and that care creates a long-lasting connection. A few ways
we see this demonstrated include: quietly helping with living expenses (often by continuing their
pay) when a medical crisis occurs; providing opportunities for the team’s family members to
celebrate business success (trips, events, parties, etc.); and allowing team members to
participate in new business ventures or opportunities. There are also many non-financial ways to
demonstrate care. Simply inquiring about a team member’s family, sharing a meal, spending time
talking with them about their dreams and career goals, or, if you are an older business owner,
sharing your wisdom, advice and the lessons you’ve learned.

With the labor challenges every farm or ranch faces, keeping your best people is a priority. It takes a
willingness to invest in others and occasionally change your practices and expectations. The payoff is a team of people committed to both personal and business success.