The second of my “Five Essentials for Successful Ranch Management” is to strive for “continuous improvement of the key resources – land, livestock and people.” I’ve previously written in this column about the improvement of livestock via bull selection and cow culling, and of the land with good grazing management. Last month, I discussed improving soil health. However, nothing changes or improves without people implementing ideas, practices and proven techniques for the betterment of our land and livestock. For that to happen, people need opportunities to improve.
As manager of the Rex Ranch in Nebraska, we often had groups of students, ranchers, etc., that would visit to view our practices and management. One thing these visitors quickly observed was that each of our full-time employees had a herd of cows and perhaps a group of yearlings for which they was responsible. When questions were asked about the grazing, the supplemental feeding or the various costs of running the herd, we managers almost always deferred to the person responsible for the herd for an answer. Upon seeing that our people understood the ranch’s “shared vision” and that they knew the costs of what they were doing, the visitors would often ask, “Where do you get people like this?”
While I was fortunate to work with very good people, I nonetheless believe that many people can be led to learn, think, analyze, work and implement like our staff did.
After a few groups had visited our operation and observed our people, I was asked to speak at several events on the topic of how to empower employees. Each time I did so, I found myself wishing I’d been asked me to talk about our grazing methods or how we selected our bulls, culled cows, or marketed our production. It would have been easier and the ideas are more transferrable.
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The reality is that a manager can’t empower anyone; empowerment is an individual and ongoing activity. As managers we can encourage, facilitate and reward empowerment. If we do our part and the employee has the necessary talent, ability, motivation and work ethic – and many do, then they can become empowered.
For many years I have said, “The manager’s job is to create an environment in which people want to excel and then provide the tools, training and freedom to do it.” Part of creating that environment is to show or help (encourage) your people understand their potential.
During the hiring process, you should have already explained your vision and each team member’s part in that vision. If part of that vision includes each person (perhaps your children) being given more responsibility and opportunity to participate in management as they learn their jobs and demonstrate proficiency in each aspect – and if people get excited about the possibilities and they truly do want to excel – then you move to the facilitation phase.
To facilitate another’s empowerment, I like to use:
1) On-the-job training, which is best done by well-qualified trainers, and
2) Ongoing educational opportunities to help the person see, grasp, understand, analyze and implement new methods and ideas.
On our operation, we used a combination online courses, experts that came to the ranch to teach us, visits to other ranches, short-courses and seminars. Examples of things taught on the ranch are artificial insemination, pregnancy diagnosis, reproduction, nutrition, range management, animal handling, etc. Some of our own people became qualified to teach refresher courses and to introduce new employees to the concepts.
While all are good methods, I personally prefer having a qualified teacher come to the ranch or short-courses and seminars because of the opportunity to get acquainted with and interact with the speakers or instructors. In addition, I usually budgeted for a significant off-ranch learning experience (a seminar, short-course or a 2-3-day visit to another ranch) for each employee annually.
As people begin to learn and perform their job well with less supervision, it becomes time for reward. Most of our ranches don’t have many levels of management; therefore, we need to promote within a job or expand its size and responsibilities as the person demonstrates his/her competence and capabilities.
This is where “freedom to do it” comes in. When people are given opportunities to use their own ideas more, to be self-supervising and to put ideas into the management scheme, they feel rewarded. Everyone wants a chance to succeed; and when they get it, they feel rewarded.
Those visiting the Rex Ranch often made the observation that “each of your employees has their own ranch within the larger ranch.” It wasn’t quite that autonomous, because they needed to use our grazing methods, follow our genetics and marketing programs. But, they had a lot of flexibility in how they did it.
These folks also had opportunities to present and suggest new ideas; and, I must say, that many of our good ideas came from our people – perhaps as a result of their empowerment efforts.
The owner-manager-leader (one person or several) should put forth a vision and then move that to a “shared vision.” To have such a shared vision requires true buy-in and participation of all stakeholders, including employees. It doesn’t take long for people to sense if they are a robotic extension of the boss or a valuable member of a team of independent thinkers with good ideas for improvement.
Remember, leadership is best gauged by the voluntary response of those being led. Otherwise it is “pushership” or coercion.
Burke Teichert, consultant on strategic planning for ranches, is retired as vice president and general manager of Deseret. He resides in Orem, UT, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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