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Today, managing a farm team isn't about shouting orders. A successful manager thinks & acts more like a coach, mentoring and supporting within clear expectations.

Congratulations. You’ve done such a great job working on the farm, you’ve been promoted to the role of manager. Starting bright and early one morning, you will lead a team of four employees doing some of the farm’s most important work.

If you’ve never managed a team before, naturally you’ll go looking for models in some of your past managers. The one who yelled? The one who clearly favoured certain workers? The one who seemed lost most of the time? Not for you.

The fact is, managing people in a farm setting has changed. The old military command model of human resources is gone.

What then? Jennifer Wright, Acting Executive Director of the Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council, sees a new model emerging. Think of managing as being a coach, teaching and developing players with the goal of maximizing everyone’s potential and winning as a team.

Here are 4 ideas for farm managers to keep in mind:

1. Understand employees’ needs

“Employees are looking to their manager for clear communication, constructive feedback and guidance, and to be part of a successful team,” says Wright. “They are looking for you to support the team and make sure things are going the right way.”

2. Make your expectations clear

Not everyone likes following rules, but many agree that rules are necessary to get a job done. That’s especially true on a farm. From the employees’ standpoint, the key thing is consistency.

People in all fields increasingly want or expect a work-life balance. Delivering this on a busy farm can be a tall order. You have to plant when the soil is ready and harvest when the crops are. Regardless of anyone’s personal needs, cows need to be milked and cattle fed. All the more important, then, to make sure working hours and staff responsibilities are understood from the outset.

“When you hire, it’s important staff are aligned to the expectations you have for the role,” says Wright. “All employees need to know they are on equal footing with everyone else, and that you’re not making it up as you go along.”

3. Offer growth to those who want it

Some workers are content to put in a good day’s work, cash their paycheque and not look too far into the future. Others may want more.

“Compensation and benefits are important, but staff also want to feel valued and invested in,” says Wright. “They want to feel their work is doing something for the greater good. They want to feel they’re not stuck in the role, but are growing as a team member and, for many, as a person too.”

4. See your team as individuals

If you’re managing a team, it’s easy to see them as a collective. A good leader will look deeper and seek to understand each member’s strengths & weaknesses, as well as their goals & path in life. As a hockey coach herself, Wright has seen the power in this approach.

“Not every team member has the same skills and experience,” she says. “Part of the coach’s role is to identify each player’s individual strengths and to cultivate those. As with a farm manager, it’s about clear communication and positive, constructive feedback. Clearly say where you see their strengths and where some work needs to be done.”

Some people seem naturally good at leading others. Others learn the skills that have been shown to work. The Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council developed its AgriHR Toolkit to help farmers develop the skills to thrive in a manager’s role.

To learn more and help take your agri-business to the next level, check out the University of Guelph Foundations in Agricultural Management course, created in collaboration with RBC & Farm Credit Canada.