A People Approach

Why take a people approach on your farm?

Every dairy farm involves people. From single person managers or owners to large corporate farms, the ability to effectively engage people to operate the farm business is relevant.

A realistic goal for any farm business should be to ensure that the business is not constrained by people issues.

The trends in the industry are increasing herd sizes and more people being employed. If the industry is to attract and retain good people it must be competitive with other industries. Although remuneration plays a part, there are other factors that make a business attractive to work in.

Visit the real stories section to find out how other farmers manage their people issues and get some ideas you can use on your own farm.

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What do ‘people efficient’ farms look like?

What do ‘people efficient’ farm businesses have in common? There will be some fundamental strategic issues that are right on these farms. The business::

  • has a well thought out strategic vision;
  • is adequately resourced in terms of infrastructure and capability to match the strategy;
  • has well defined roles and appropriately appointed responsibilities.

‘People efficient’ farms will be productive, smoothly running farms where people want to stay and growing the business is an attractive option. These farms:

  • have invested wisely in technology;
  • have efficient work practices;
  • are well laid out and in good order;
  • have simplified farming systems to accommodate people’s needs.

There are also a number of generic human resource management principles that are common to any well managed human resource management program regardless of the size of the business:

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Where to start?

The major challenges we face are:

  • Attracting retaining and developing good people
  • Having a satisfactory work-life balance
  • Being fairly rewarded for our efforts
  • Managing risk adequately

The first step is understanding the drivers of people issues on farm. An exploration of people issues with farmers, consultants, HR specialists and researchers identified 4 fundamental principles as the keys to success for working with people on farm. These are:

  1. Consider all the people on the farm (not just employees)
  2. Adapt the way things are done on the farm to suit people
  3. Have the right people doing the right jobs at the right time
  4. Establish and maintain effective working relationships

Underpinning these four principles are four approaches that will help achieve change:

  • Use the resources available on this website to get the best people outcomes for the farm
  • Take practical steps from what is currently being done on the farm to get to where you want the farm to be
  • Take action at multiple levels of business decisions (the Navigator includes business strategy, availability of resources, defining and allocating roles for individuals and working as a team)
  • Get advice from off-farm team members to enhance outcomes

Where to start?

We have two tools to help you analyse farm performance around people (productivity, systems, roles and responsibilities, working conditions, retention).

The People Snapshot provides an easy to use self-assessment tool to help identify areas in which you are doing well and others areas that need your attention. Links to relevant resources will help you get started on your path to getting the best from the people on your farm.

The Navigator

The ‘Navigator’ is a way of identifying how people issues infiltrate a dairy farm business. Rather than taking a ‘symptomatic’ approach to people issues, the ‘Navigator’ takes a holistic view.

For example, on a farm struggling to keep people, the owners may assume people are leaving because they aren’t being paid enough for the hours they are working or because of workplace conflicts.

However, these issues are most likely not the root cause, they are probably just symptoms of other problems in the farm business. To seek out the underlying cause/s the farm owners need to think more broadly than pay and working conditions. Working through the levels of the Navigator, prompts consideration of the broader people issues such as:

  • Do the owners have realistic expectations of what can be achieved?
  • Is the farm adequately resourced to achieve its goals?
  • Has enough effort and thought been put into how the farm operates?
  • Are roles and responsibilities clear and are the right people in these roles?
  • Are individuals trained, coached, rewarded and given reasonable time off?
  • Is the team well enough equipped and managed to deliver high performance?

Much of what makes a farm a good workplace comes down to the quality of the leadership and the ability to gain the respect of the people working on the farm. Likewise, the culture of the business influences how well a farm performs. The effects of leadership and culture filter down through everything the farm does, that is why they sit at the top of the ‘Navigator’.

Where in the farm business are the people issues?
Business vision, leadership and culture
Do the farm owners have a strategic vision that is realistic and well understood? Is there effective leadership and culture in the farm business?

Do People work better if they know where the business is headed and have adopted the farm culture.

Does the farm have the resources needed to achieve its goals (e.g. equity and funds, infrastructure, stock, machinery, access to feed and water)?

People become frustrated if they don’t have the resources to fulfill their roles and complete tasks.

Farming approach
Has the farm management established what is to be done, why, how and when (e.g. reviewed the farming system and documented business policies, operational plan and operating manuals)?

Things happen more smoothly and safely if the farming system is adapted to suit people and well documented.

Roles on the farm
Have all the roles required on the farm been determined and the skills, knowledge and time involved been established (e.g role of herd manager, detailed tasks and responsibilities, hours of work)?

It is easier to find and retain the people the farm needs if the roles required to achieve all the work are well defined.

Are the right people doing the right jobs and are they clear about their responsibilities?

Each person is more likely to contribute and stay on the farm if they understand their responsibilities and tasks, which are documented in a position description and contract of employment, and they receive quality induction, appropriate rewards, regular performance reviews, good training and a plan for their future career and wealth creation.

Working together
Is there effective teamwork and communication?

People work better together if there is effective communication, respect for others, regular team meetings and a clear process for resolving disputes.

What help is there to identify people issues on your farm?

People issues can be very complex and it is often a good idea to seek some help from an adviser. These advisers have completed human resource training specifically tailored to the dairy industry. 

You can also use the People Snapshot and People Analysis tools to help diagnose problems.

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