6 tips to help you keep your top employees

If finding them is hard, keeping them is even harder.

April 2, 2020

4 Min Read
Ranch employees

When someone leaves their job, we assume it’s because they did not have the right skill set for the role. However, often the job was a good fit, but their boss was not. Fifty-two percent of exiting employees say their supervisor could have done something to prevent them from leaving and some reports indicate as high as two-thirds of people quit their jobs because they don’t get along with their manager.

In the tight agriculture labor market, ranchers can’t afford to have employees leave. The bottom line: Once you find a good employee, what can you do to keep them? “It’s important to ask yourself, what can they expect from me, not just what they are accountable for,” says James Sewell, ranch manager at TA Ranch, Saratoga, Wyo. 

Sewell recognizes people go into production agriculture for different reasons. Usually it’s for their passion for livestock or rangelands. Most have not taken the time to think or learn about managing employees. As a previous employee at Deseret Ranches for 10 years, Sewell witnessed the implementation of effective employee management. He developed a skill set he now practices.

Here are 6 tips he uses to keep good employees around:

  • Brand the business  Attracting and keeping good employees begins with culture. “It’s the ranch manager’s duty to set the culture and brand the business to be one that shows potential employees that this is a place they want to work. Your goal is to be known as the best employer.”

Related:How to hire, motivate, retain employees

Creating a culture your employees talk positively about at the local coffee shop should be your goal. The best reference you can get is from your current employees. In a tight labor market, there is competition for the best employees, so you want the culture you build to brand your business as a place where employees will strive to be hired. Identify advantages you can offer; maybe its flexibility in schedules, being more adaptable for time with family, or cross-training.

  • Build relationships  The relationships you build will impact the longevity of your employees. “Be yourself, be genuine, don’t pretend to be someone else,” says Sewell.  This includes expressing emotions.

“If you are never upset, how are they going to know when you are unhappy with their work or the situation?” To build trust and loyalty, employees need to know who the manager is, what the manager expects of them and why. Explain why their role and their behavior is important to you as a manager and make sure to appreciate and celebrate them when they deserve it.

  • Communicate regularly  Every Monday at 7 a.m. for the past 8 years, Sewell has held an employee staff meeting. “This meeting gets us off on the right foot after the weekend and restarts everyone for the week ahead.”

It is an opportunity to discuss what has happened and what’s about to happen. Short-and-long term goals are discussed. “What really works is to keep the meetings focused,” he says. Small talk is limited to before the meeting for more efficient time management and a productive discussion.

  • Break down barriers  Sewell rarely hosts meetings in his office. Rather, he prefers to meet his employees in their space, whether that’s riding along with them in the truck or horseback.

“I have learned conversations are more effective when we are side-by-side, both looking forward rather than the intimidation that can come with sitting across a desk.” If they are taking his truck, he prefers to let the employee drive the truck, as it puts them more at ease. This more equalized environment has led to employees being more open to discussion and resulted in more joint problem-solving.

  • A day in the life  Don’t hesitate to show what work around the ranch looks like. Allow employees to show photos on Facebook or other social media outlets of the things they enjoy doing around the ranch. This demonstrates their pride in what they do and is free marketing for potential employees. It builds loyalty to their role when they hear others say, ‘I wish I could have a job like that.’

  • Competent co-workers  One frustration employees express is the supervisor’s failure to handle unproductive employees. Management often gets busy and doesn’t pay attention to how marginal employees affect the ranch and morale. In your management role, focus on ensuring you have competent co-workers or train them to build the skills they need to be able to contribute to the overall team.

“As managers, we tend to drift toward doing what is easiest or most convenient, but the skills needed for leading and managing employees can be learned and developed over time with practice. The outcomes can make a tremendous difference to your business,” says Sewell.

B. Lynn Gordon is a freelance writer from Sioux Falls, S.D. The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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