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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

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New Hires Need Training & Motivation

By Jane Eckert

Earlier this year I wrote an article about specific hiring tips that you could implement, and improve upon, at your farm.  These ideas were gleaned from a survey that I conducted this past winter.  Now, I want to go to the next step after recruiting and hiring, to talk about training methods to insure you maximize the value of your employees. Again, I will incorporate the responses and feedback that I received on the surveys, which represent many of the most respected farm market and agritourism operators in North America.

Methods Used for Employee Training
It seems that on-the-job training is still the most favored approach when instructing new hires, and OJT was listed by 94.8% of the survey responses.  While this method is certainly a good one to get these new employees out on the sales floor and learning about guest interaction, it often is only as good as the teacher and how much direct guidance time is available.  Therefore, I would recommend that you not limit your training to solely to on-the-job—it’s too often that the employee is thrown into the mix once you have gotten busy and doesn’t always have a solid foundation about your business, your customers and how they should behave.

Other methods to ensure more comprehensive training includes one to one, matching either a family member or current outstanding employee with the new hire.  You want to ensure that the messages and the methods that they are hearing are correct and that no bad habits get formed.  This one-on-one time should be assigned and part of the schedule and not left to chance. There is typically too much to be retained to just allocate two hours, and the farms doing it right tend to spread this type of training out over several sessions.

Using a group class for training has also proven to be a very effective and time efficient approach when you are hiring several employees to begin at the same time.  Group classes will allow for multiple presenters, time for interaction among the new hires and the opportunity for the trainer to get more of a sense of the skills of the new employees.  The class activities provide a great opportunity to begin identifying the potential leaders and crew chiefs.

Other training methods used by farms have included the use of an outside trainer or a person not actively involved in your business.  This is often a customer service specialist that can provide an overview on how to deal with customers and to make them satisfied.  The farms that were using outside trainers said they don’t necessarily do this every year.  They repeat the training periodically, however, because they have found that an outside person can bring in a professional point of view that will reinforce the information that the owner wants conveyed with a bigger picture approach.

The other two methods used for employee training on farms were specific farm videos related to the job and online training modules.  These methods are used by big companies and schools today and I was pleased to learn that some farms are also moving to online teaching tools.  While this may seem beyond your capability, there are some tasks that can best be trained by seeing the work done and a short video could be just the thing to do so.  Videos and online training modules also allow the employee to repeat viewing and to do so on their own time.

Training via an Employee Manual
Just about two-thirds of the survey respondents also create an employee manual.  The manual supplements their other training methods and provides some of the procedural information that every employee needs to know.  The most common employee manual topics include dress code, grooming, pay period, scheduling, tardiness, personal phone calls, texting, employee purchases etc. 

The employee manual is meant as a referral piece for the new hire because it is hard to expect them to take in all the information in one sitting. Other topics covered by farm manuals include guest safety, handling guest complaints, emergency procedures, use of equipment, food sanitation, lost child procedures and more.  Frankly, I believe every farm should have a written employee manual to spell out all of the different questions and policies at the farm. 

Employee Benefits
Most of us think about employee benefits related to large companies with health insurance, profit sharing, day care, health club etc., and we just don’t think we have the size of operation to be able to offer these types of benefits.  That’s not necessarily so… Carolyn’s Country Cousin in Liberty, Missouri, shared with me a very novel approach to excite their seasonal employees about their benefit package.

They present each employee with a package that includes a Carolyn’s drink container and straw with the employee name.  Employees are given free drink refills when working.  Also included in the package is a laminated FREE Family Season Pass with the employee name for their family to visit the admission farm as many times as they would like in the fall. But that’s not all, every fall season employee gets 10 free tickets to the corn maze, pumpkin patch and train ride that they can give out to their friends and strangers.

Each employee has a ticket for one free pumpkin, gets discounts on all food concessions and participates in the end of season sale at a greatly discounted rate.  These are all items many of us already offer our employees, but Carolyn’s has packaged them together and presented them in such a way as to make the employee feel special and recognized for their seasonal contribution.

Creating an Employee Benefit Package was a smart move by Carolyn’s Country Cousins and one that I’m sure gets talked about by their employees, family members and friends. The bottom line is that we all probably offer and give-away things to our employees, so why not take credit for doing so and bundling them in an attractive package.

Our employees are a most valuable asset and should be valued and nurtured!

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.