FROM THE EDITOR: December 2006

January 24, 2008
Written by
Invariably when I’m talking with a grower and asking about the keys to the success of their business, the contribution of their employees is front and centre.

Often at conferences, I’ll run into a grower from out of province, and they’ll note their greenhouse is in good hands while they’re travelling. Most of their employees have been with them for a few years and know what has to be done.

But the growing challenge of late has been in finding, and more importantly, keeping good employees.

Farm Credit Canada posted a great feature on the topic, entitled: “Human Resources and Farming: Managing the ‘People’ Factor.” The author is Dr. John Fast (, the president of the Canadian Centre of Excellence for Family Business.

“What’s the biggest competitive advantage enjoyed by family owned and operated farm businesses? It’s the people who live and work there. Often dubbed ‘the loyalty factor,’ the dedication and hard work of family members who farm together has been an inherent strength for many centuries. But in an increasingly competitive 21st-century marketplace, that strength can no longer be taken for granted. Today, farm business operators need to carefully and intentionally manage the valuable human capital that resides in their employees. In large part, developing and keeping talented employees – whether they are family or non-family – is critical in ensuring future productivity and profitability.”

Among his many suggestions, Dr. Fast notes the importance of effective communication and feedback. “Don’t assume that your employees know what you’re thinking or understand your performance expectations. Research into employee retention and motivation consistently identifies the greatest managerial deficiency as ‘the inability to listen and communicate.’ To feel respected and supported, employees require clear and consistent messages, and a manager that listens to them. Without this, you risk losing your good employees, and getting substandard performance from those who stay.”

Dr. Fast also urges managers to offer positive reinforcement. He noted the work of author Beverly Kaye (‘Love ’em or Lose ’em: Getting Good People to Stay’) who summarized interviews with thousands of people who quit their jobs. “One of the most common reasons for leaving was a lack of appreciation,” said Dr. Fast. “In family businesses specifically, lack of positive reinforcement is cited as the number one saboteur of unity and harmony. Employees thrive on effective feedback, which is consistent, immediate, specific and meaningful.”

FCC partnered with the Canadian Farm Business Management Council to sponsor a series of AgriSuccess workshops. One of the themes was entitled, “Keep The Best.” Among presenters was human resources consultant Michelle Painchaud. She noted that while salary plays a big part in employee retention, other less tangible factors are also important. “Employees want an environment where they like what they do, feel valued and appreciated, and are challenged.” She said managers must set SMART goals for their employees, these being Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. With respect to communicating with their staff, she said the feedback must be FAST: Frequent, Accurate, Specific and Timely.

Ottawa has recognized the farm labour challenge. Earlier this year, it announced $1 million for a new program called the Canadian Agriculture Human Resources Council. This new group, said Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, “will boost our agricultural workforce by recruiting and retaining skilled workers.”

Let’s hope that funding includes retraining and skills upgrading incentives for farm workers. Such support might help spur more young people to investigate career opportunities in this sector.

There’s no better investment towards improved profitability than that spent on creating and maintaining a more productive workplace environment.

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