Just back from the National Conference in Raleigh, I wish to express many thanks for all the folks that showed us terrific hospitality and worked hard for a thoughtful program.  I know Leah Cook and John Dole put in many, many extra hours to pull off such a good conference.  There will be many contemplative winter nights for me ahead based on all that I took in.

Dave Dowling and I shared a talk on ‘Where We Find and How We Manage Employees’.  We were hoping to make it a round table discussion with those in attendance but this is a big subject and time did not allow for such a discussion.  I would like to suggest that a round table discussion could be initiated in this column and would like to encourage you to email me or post on the bulletin board your thoughts on your employment issues—whether they are how you have solved employment dilemmas or what your employment dilemmas may be.  

Arguably, farm labor is one of the biggest issues facing agriculture, particularly specialty agriculture.  I know it is one of the biggest issues on my farm.  Finding and then keeping an excellent, qualified employee is currently keeping me from expanding my business to where I would like to be.  There is a plethora of information out there on marketing and growing.  I never seem to come up empty handed when I go in search of this information but when it comes to information on employees it remains a mystery.  

There were a couple of points that I only touched upon in my talk and I would like to bring them up a bit more in depth here.  If there is one important thing I have learned upon having employees is this:  Yes, I can do all the jobs on my farm faster and better myself, all the while paying more attention to detail.  However, once I made the decision to have an employee I had to let go of the ‘control factor’.  I didn’t hire someone to watch me work.  Truthfully, I can’t do all the jobs that need to be done on the farm in any one day for very long without suffering from burnout very fast.  I had to change my focus on helping that employee do the jobs I needed done.

My role now is more of a support role.  This took me a long time to learn, and honestly I am still learning this.  I really have to work on helping my employees see my vision for my business and work with them to help them make decisions to enhance this vision and the bottom line!  All this works on the assumption you have found good employees.

I also continually try to determine what will and how to motivate employees.  I happen to employ several teens and along those lines I happened upon ‘Jane Eckert Agrimarketing’.  I have found her information on employees to be quite helpful and in fact she has a CD on ‘How to Motivate the Teen Employee’.  She also has a free e-newsletter that I usually get some helpful tip from each time it comes out.  Check out her website at ww.eckartagrimarketing.com.

A few tips Jane has on motivating employees are:  “Let your employees know that they can handle and respond to customer needs.  Create a fun environment, so employees will feel like a part of a team that works together.  Recognize employees when they do well.  Don’t discipline in front of other employees.”  I know it all sounds like common sense but when I get caught up in the daily drama of a flower farm, I need to be reminded of these things.                        

One of the final points I want to discuss is keeping and maintaining good communication.  Oh boy, is this huge in all relationships.  But you already knew this.  Me, once again, I need constant reminders.  Here are a few things I do:  I create weekly lists of harvest needs on a dry erase board in my packing shed.  That way not everything is in my head.  Employees then have empowerment to check off the list.  Everyone likes to check things off lists.  I also try to work with employees for at least 1-2 hours each day to get things set up and going.  I also try to set aside time before the end of the day to check in, resolve questions.  I don’t like employees to leave without saying goodbye to them.  And always plan for the unexpected and give yourself time for the unexpected, never expect the day to go as you have planned for it.  You will be disappointed all the time.        

I hope you find some of the above a little bit helpful.  Again, let’s start a round table discussion on labor and employment issues.  I will compile your thoughts to put in a future Quarterly column.  Please, send me your thoughts, either by email [email protected] or bulletin board or any other way you wish to get your ideas to me.  Have a good winter season.