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The case for employee engagement in agricultural businesses

Bianca Ferrari Published on 30 September 2015

Excellence today is not a guarantee of success tomorrow. Even superstars can burn out. How can you create a business that constantly adapts and flourishes?

Now more than ever, successful businesses need to hire great people who can become psychologically connected to their jobs and are proactive and committed to high-quality performance standards.

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In today’s competitive business environment, organizations not only need to recruit high performers but also inspire and enable employees to fully utilize their capabilities. So how does a company or farm maximize engagement? Here are some key lessons we have learned about this important area.

Understand engagement

Engagement is the extent to which an individual is motivated to contribute to a business’ success. Engaged employees are willing to apply discretionary effort to accomplishing tasks important to the achievement of goals.

Several business cases suggest highly engaged employees can drive more than 25 percent higher business performance. Those employees demonstrate pride, advocacy, commitment and satisfaction, and have a higher tendency to create a positive customer experience.

In contrast, disengaged employees can cost businesses in revenue and profitability. Not only because the company will fail to go above and beyond in productivity but also because of the high cost of employee turnover.

The ROI potential

A meta-analysis study conducted for a leading research-based performance management consulting firm demonstrates that top-quartile business units have 12 percent higher customer advocacy, 18 percent higher productivity and 12 percent higher profitability than bottom-quartile business units.

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And those bottom-quartile business units? They saw 31 to 51 percent more employee turnover, 51 percent more inventory shrinkage and 62 percent more accidents than those in the top quartile of workplace engagement.

Leaders enable great people

Recruiting great people is only part of the equation. It is vital we also inspire and enable them to apply their full capabilities and skills to their work environment. Engagement needs to be part of a business’s goals and values – an ongoing effort that involves every individual.

Managers need to have great relationships with their employees. They should be visible, create a positive work environment, build trust and demonstrate they value employee feedback. This greatly impacts employee performance and, in turn, affects customer experience.

In our company, we hold formal meetings to give employees an opportunity to provide their ideas and create action plans on how to make improvements to the business. Those comments make a direct impact on performance and productivity. For smaller companies or farm operations, surveys or in-person interviews may be a more suitable way to gather employee feedback.

The follow-through

I am often asked, “Why ask employees for feedback?” They have more power than you might think. Employees know how to improve their job performance, and if you engage them correctly, they might share those insights. Involving them in the improvement process is fundamental to increasing engagement.

But asking for feedback is only part of the solution. Employees who provide feedback will expect to see their employer take action. Failing to do so will result in a disastrous combination, leading to lost trust and lowering enthusiasm.

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Recognize individuals

It is possible for employees to be satisfied in their jobs but to be lacking in the drive to go above and beyond. This can seriously impact the plans for any business that wants to grow.

If you’re doing engagement well, employees will identify opportunities to improve as a critical part of their job, and everybody will be accountable for their actions. Picture a large puzzle, with each employee being a piece of that puzzle.

Employees require clarification of their roles and how they translate to day-to-day work. How does each employee fit into the larger picture? Why is each job important? They need to know the company sees value in them as individuals.

Managers can show how they value employees by seeking opportunities to recognize good work. A simple thank-you message, a card or even a public acknowledgement can go a long way in engaging employees in non-cash awards.

Leaders can focus on encouragement and acting as an example for their teams. Ideally, their actions will lead to a culture of peer-to-peer recognition as well.

Employee engagement at small and big farms requires leaders who can demonstrate transparency, recognition, vision and empowerment. To be successful, they need to hire and enable the best talent through creating a culture of continuous improvement, diversity and accountability.

Agriculture is a fascinating and dynamic industry where farm owners need to hire and enable the best talent to create the impact needed to feed the world. Employee engagement is a key to organizational success; ignoring it is a risky game where everyone loses.  PD

Bianca Ferrari has led DuPont Pioneer’s focus to improve employee engagement. She holds a master’s degree in human resources management from York University. She studied human resources at Rotman School of Business – University of Toronto and completed her psychology degree focus in organization behavior in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with honors.

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