“I walked into the staffroom one day and saw one of our great employees who had started six months previously sitting at the table. This young man, who came to us fit and eager, had changed for the worse. And this was just from trying to be a normal man – working long hours and still maintaining a normal and enjoyable life outside of dairy farming. I realised something had to change.”
As an owner of a 1000-cow farm in Bulls, Manawatu, Stuart Taylor has a team of six to seven staff.
Integral to his business is creating a community of good, productive people, with individual roles reflecting what they want out of a career and an opportunity to get to where they want to be.
“We offer staff flexibility, a good leader to follow, a productive learning environment, respect and the opportunity to be part of something bigger,” says Stuart. “In return, they support a productive and profitable business. We are 100 percent reliant on the people who run the farm, so for us, people are our priority.”
Leading from the top
To develop this culture, they focus on training their leaders in the areas of people and business management. “Ninety percent of success in managing people is what the leader does – not the capability of the people,” says Stuart.
“Good people develop better people. The good make great. And from good people you get solutions to everything else that is important in farming.”
Stuart says the ultimate goal is to make dairy farming a career that New Zealanders aspire to. He believes roles need to reflect the fact that not everyone’s motivation is farm ownership. It does not build a desirable career if the only way to success is sacrificing a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing. Different values and motivations need to be taken into account and catered for on-farm.
From good to great
All staff on the farm are on an hourly rate and average 50 hours a week, with a maximum limit of 55 hours. In practice, Stuart says this means having more people on the roll than you may normally, but total labour cost doesn’t necessarily change.
“Staff are all on different rosters to suit their own life. Some are on four on, three off, if that’s what they want. Some are on five and two and some are on 12 and two.”
Employees' goals and aspirations are factored in to individual roles. “We find flexibility is the key to capturing as many good and productive people as possible,” says Stuart.
One employee on the farm has a medium-term goal to start his own contracting business. As part of his current farm role, he is receiving on-the-job training to help him take steps towards this.
“We are teaching him how to do PAYE, GST, how to quote jobs and manage people,” says Stuart. “Employees appreciate that we teach them the skills they want to learn. They repay us by being productive, dedicated, motivated, and trustworthy.
“You sometimes hear the phrase ‘I trained them up and then they left.’ I don’t see it like that. I’m training them for right now. While they are receiving the training and work environment they want, they are being a good and productive employee – that’s invaluable.”
An added incentive is that employees eventually have the opportunity to buy into the farm.
“Two employees have bought shares in the farm,” says Stuart. If farm ownership is a goal they have, it’s one option to make that achievable.”
Finding good staff
Building relationships and a good reputation has been key to finding the right staff. And although the farm has set up a website and works with rural professionals and recruitment agencies, 90 percent of their applicants now come through word of mouth.
“Finding the right team member is crucial as they must fit in well with the team,” says Stuart.
“Only the best are allowed in, meaning the team is protected from people who do not live up to the culture.”
“The farm also uses the 90-day trial to ensure the right team fit, and during this time, the new staff member drives to work, only moving onto the farm once the 90-day period is complete.
Value of good people
New ideas are top of the list for what Stuart gets out of having a great team and discovering better ways of doing things.
“People make money with new ideas and the choices they make. We have an expectation that employees use their initiative, for example, not ignoring a problem in the paddock or herd. It’s part of what makes a good employee.
“But most of all, it’s fun with good people. It’s enjoyable farming – for everyone. It means we get motivated and dedicated workers. You can’t put a price on that. They’re easier to look after, work well as a team and they enjoy their work – everything goes smoother.”
Graham Henry rotation system
One concept used on the farm to keep work enjoyment high is the “Graham Henry rotation system” – moving the team around to increase skill levels.
“Every four to six weeks we try to shift role responsibilities. They might be doing pasture for a month, then tractors and maintenance the next month. We’ve found it helps team dynamics because they understand each other’s roles. It provides training and when someone is away it means there is immediate cover.
“The team enjoys it because they get to try something different and find out where their passion lies. It allows people to be innovative.
“We’ve found millennials (young adults) in particular want to try different things and need flexibility. Given the opportunity, they’ll come up with a better way of doing things that we can all use. It motivates them and it’s important for people to come through and learn for themselves.”
Leaders in dairy
Overall, Stuart believes people leadership needs to be the priority within the dairy industry.
“The dairy farming structure needs to fit with modern society to be sustainable.
“Share skills, time and expertise with the end goal of growing great people.
“We need to be more open about how great we are doing and get the positive stories out there. We need the majority to influence others to shift.”
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy March 2016