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Families: It’s time to communicate

Whether you have a business with 25 employees or own a small ranch or farm with just family working together, one factor is essential to the success of the business.

At a glance

• Improve your business, lessen stress with better communication.

• Recognizing different personality types is a good first step.

• Give employees the opportunity to provide you with feedback.


That key ingredient is communication, says B. Lynn Gordon, administrator of the Ag Promotion and Development Division of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. Gordon shared five tips for becoming a better communicator in a presentation at the Nebraska Women In Ag conference this winter in Kearney. More than 400 women attended the event.

“Whether you are an owner, manager, or employee, there are many challenges in the agricultural industry, but with improved communication much of that stress and challenge can be reduced,” Gordon said. Strategies she suggested include:

1. Recognize personality types.

“An individual’s personality influences how they interact and work with others,” Gordon pointed out. Some personality types like to be in charge, some are analytical and others may enjoy being social. Gordon said it is important to recognize these differences and modify communication styles accordingly.

For instance, someone with a “take charge” directive personality may need to develop more patience when working with others and make an effort to involve others in the decision-making process. When working with an individual who has a directive personality, others should strive to stick to business and be specific and brief.

“Recognizing the differences in personality types and how those individuals work best is a start to enhancing communication,” Gordon said.

2. Realize not everyone is motivated by the same things.

Just as personality types differ, so do reasons for motivation. “People are very different, and it takes different tactics to make them feel like they are part of the business team,” said Gordon.

As examples, she said some people are motivated by challenge, purpose or reputation, while others may simply seek rewards and fun.

To engage employees and motivate them boils down to being a supervisor who communicates expectations, said Gordon. This includes providing training, support and feedback to employees. “Supervisors should be proactive — not reactive — to people issues.

“A supervisor or ‘boss’ should view their role much like that of a coach as they train employees, set goals for them, involve them in decision making and keep them informed,” Gordon said.

3. Use job descriptions and meetings to communicate roles.

While written job descriptions and staff meetings might sound like they are best suited to Wall Street, they can be a useful tool for every business — even family farms and ranches, Gordon said.

“Written job descriptions can communicate who is responsible for doing what and the expectations that go with each role. When a new generation is returning to the ranch, developing job descriptions can really help clarify each individual’s role and help separate business from family,” Gordon said.

Likewise, she said that whether a meeting is long or short, detailed or not, the value is in the fact that everyone gets face to face and has an opportunity to express ideas.

4. Provide opportunities for goal setting and feedback.

A common frustration for employees is often lack of feedback — or only negative feedback — from their supervisor. To prevent that from occurring, Gordon said managers should strive to develop a system with employees where goals are set — and communicated — and feedback is provided on a regular, perhaps monthly, basis.

For instance, it is important for each business to have a vision, mission and goals and communicate those with employees, even if the employees are only family.

Likewise, hold regular monthly or bimonthly meetings with each employee so their individual performance can be discussed and goals for the future established.

5. Create opportunities for continued learning.

“Successful ranchers and business owners are dedicated to lifelong learning, both for themselves and their employees,” Gordon pointed out.

The Nebraska Department of Ag offers several educational opportunities and programs for the ag community, including beginning farmer and farm mediation programs and marketing networks.

“Attending industry meetings, workshops and conferences creates a sense of value for employees. They can then bring new knowledge and networks back to the business, which ultimately builds on that winning team attitude for the business,” said Gordon.

She concluded, “The hardest part of communication is doing it, but with the right steps in place it can become a natural part of any business.”

This article published in the July, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.