TRAVERSE CITY — Managing employees can be tough.
As employers, in agriculture or otherwise, we have decisions we need to make every day — decisions that need to be implemented by our employees. Therefore, it is important to consider the impact of decisions on employees and their ability to implement them amid everything else they are already doing.
Good management starts with how we view employees and how we “manage” them. If we’re “old school,” believing in a “command and control” approach, then were not going to ask them for input. This management mindset expects that most employees can’t be trusted, that employees won’t exercise self-control, that employees are lazy by nature and that they have little ambition. If that’s your management mindset, why would you ask for input?
The problem with this is that is assumes that you, as the manager, have the best knowledge, that you are complete in what needs to be known, and that your decisions cannot be improved. Experience should tell us that this is not the case. The reality is that decisions that get talked about and debated are usually better decisions.
So what is the alternative management mindset? What if you held the opposite view of the statements listed in the command and control mindset? If we really value employees and respect them, then we need to involve them. If trustworthy, ambitious people are going to be what drives your business forward. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to ask them for input on decisions. They need to become partners with you in reaching the goals of your business. They can only do that if they know and share the goals that you have set.
Practical examples of asking for employee input would be in making the best purchases and in scheduling. For example, when the business needs to purchase a new piece of equipment, why not ask the employees who will be working with the equipment to do the research on the possible options (hopefully employees helped point out the need for the equipment as well.) Not only does this help create a sense of belonging to a team, but it also provides you the opportunity to help build skills in your employees. You are helping them build decision-making skills, and you can also introduce such concepts as partial budgeting to determine which option will be the most profitable. Obviously, you still have to make the final decision, as you have to write the check, but including employees in farm decisions can make a huge difference in employee satisfaction.
What if you’re looking at a change in how you schedule employees’ work time? Wouldn’t it make sense to ask employees what they would prefer? On farms, and in other businesses, this has limitations since there are tasks that have to get done on weekends (the cows have to be milked every day,) but there is also likely more flexibility than you may think. Sometimes as managers we just can’t see a different way of doing it than how we are currently functioning. As Michigan State University Extension educators talk with dairy managers, they have found that work time and schedules vary greatly by farm. Asking employees for input on scheduling, and procedure changes that may impact that scheduling, creates another opportunity for you to build on teamwork and it may even help your business become more efficient.
Asking employees for input does not take away from your leadership of the business; you still have to make the ultimate decisions. Asking them for input does emphasizes that as a leader, you understand that employees have valuable experience and knowledge and are best positioned to help move your business forward.