Coaching and Mentoring


9 min read

Coaching Mentoring Getting started When to coach or mentor your staff Training Getting started with training Training to provide Who should provide the training When do I focus on training? Benefits of providing training How do I provide effective training on farm? Can I expect my employees to attend training on their day off? Off-farm training Can I expect my employees to pay for their own training?

Coaching and mentoring are essential tools for empowering and guiding individuals to reach their full potential and achieve their goals. Coaches offer skills like listening, questioning, and feedback, while mentors provide perspective and empathy based on shared experiences. Choose the right mentor or coach, and remember that coaching leads to action and accountability. Training is about increasing employee skills, benefiting the business with improved job satisfaction and performance. Create a training plan, provide on-farm and off-farm training, and reinforce learning through practice. Support and value your employees' development to retain an engaged and competent team.

Coaching and mentoring is about encouraging and guiding an individual to achieve their potential and their goals.

Mentors and coaches have high levels of credibility due to their experience. Spending time with a mentor or a coach allows employees to look at a situation through different eyes and extends their thinking beyond the obvious. Mentors and coaches may be independent of the immediate farm business which can help provide clarity about what the big goals really are without getting bogged down in the day-to-day stuff.


Coaching is a set of skills that includes listening, acknowledging, questioning, and providing corrective feedback. It keeps people on track. Coaching can happen every day but often occurs when a business, or individual, realises they need to make a step change to achieve their goals and a professional is bought in to change the leadership and team dynamics. The determination and commitment of the coach can greatly influence results.

  • Future-oriented.
  • Clarifies where you are now and where you want to be. Bridges the gap between the two.
  • Creates awareness of gaps in skills and knowledge to prompt changes in behaviour.
  • Develops thinking, self-belief, confidence, understanding, ownership, empowerment, motivation, clarity, and focus.
  • Is not soft; it leads to action, accountability, and execution.


Mentoring is a skill that provides perspective to the mentee when they have exhausted their current level of knowledge, experience and thinking. Mentoring is particularly effective when people have just taken on a new or challenging role, or are looking for such an opportunity. The desire for new skills and learning at these times is heightened so people have a greater focus. Mentors rely upon having had similar experiences to gain empathy with the mentee and an understanding of their issues.

  • A powerful personal development tool, used to empower, support, and encourage people to manage their own learning.
  • A partnership of two people (mentor and mentee) working in a similar field or sharing similar experiences.
  • Relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and confidentiality.

Getting started

  • Spend time choosing the right mentor, or coach, for you and/or your team. This is critical, so make sure you pick the right person. Ask for recommendations, check references and spend time getting to know them.
  • Mentors are motivated by wanting to impact on someone's life by sharing their knowledge and experiences. Most mentors offer their time for free and this is a very personal relationship. It is quite common for bosses to become mentors for employees and this can be a very successful way of developing and empowering employees.
  • Professional coaches are an excellent option when an alternative perspective is required. They are not necessarily industry specific, as coaching skills are transferrable, but there are companies that do specialise in dairy farm coaching.
  • Coach your own employees - Instead of telling employees the answer, ask questions so they can identify the solution. Explain different sides of a situation so they learn to see a rounded view and how a small decision can impact a much bigger area.

When to coach or mentor your staff

Coaching and mentoring are usually not things to squeeze into spare moments in the day. In general a good coach or mentor needs to commit over a reasonable period of time and then actually make time for it.

For mentoring it is important that both parties can concentrate and are not distracted so scheduling the discussion at night or off-farm can be a good idea. Be realistic about frequency - monthly or even quarterly discussions are probably about right for most people. Remember that a mentoring role may continue beyond your staff’s direct employment on your farm.

Make sure you read the roles of a coach and a mentor at the top of this page, and see how you can help your staff develop a career plan.

Of course there are aspects of coaching and mentoring that can happen in your day-to-day work. Think about the conversations you are already having and switch from giving your employees the answer to problems to asking your employees for solutions. Give your employees small chunks of extra responsibility along with some boundaries they can operate in, and let them know you are in the background to support them.

Learn about providing quality feedback in step 3 of the performance management cycle.

If you use the coaching opportunities that are available to you each day your employees are likely to become empowered, motivated and more competent, giving you a more productive and independent team, and you will gain satisfaction from watching their progress.

Remember to:

  • Empower your team to make better decisions by coaching, not telling them, how to deal with a situation.
  • Involve and engage your employees.
  • Help find a mentor for your employees (or do it yourself) who can guide and develop their potential.


Training is about increasing the skill levels of your employees. This benefits your business as they are able to do a better job across a broader range of areas.

Training your staff shows you value them and this leads to increased job satisfaction and staff retention. It also allows you to fill in skill gaps that exist in your business and have confidence in your team.

Getting started with training

  • Discuss with your employee their existing skill set. Agree on any gaps between where they are at and where they need to be. Also find out the areas where your employee is interested in learning more.
  • Think about what skill gaps exist on your farm, if any.
  • Write a training plan for each employee which details what training they need, or want, and why. In conjunction with your employee, decide if on-farm or off-farm training will be most effective. Usually, a combination of the two is best as it provides variety.
  • Identify training providers and when courses are available.
  • Schedule regular and structured on-farm training into your employee's roster (and your own where relevant) and encourage and support them to complete it.
  • Provide opportunities for your employee to practice their new skills on farm post-training. This cements the learning.

Remember to:

  • For new employees, create a training plan in the first 2 to 4 weeks when things on farm are a bit quieter. This should be built into their orientation and will ensure they get up to speed quicker.
  • Training should happen for all employees, not just those that are new.

Training to provide

  • Task training - This is the training required to ensure people can do their job well and safely. It includes training in using vehicles and machinery, handling livestock and health and safety.
  • Developmental training - This is mainly training for personal growth, but it also helps ensure your staff work well as a team and develop their own confidence. It could include training in communication skills, delegation, and time management.

Who should provide the training

Think about who is the best provider in each case. A lot of task training can be done on the farm by you or by experienced staff. Make sure whoever does the training is not just technically competent, but also knows how to train. There are 'train the trainer' courses available for this, have a look online.

Off-farm training is provided by many organisations. PrimaryITO provide agricultural training that is set up to work around busy times on the farm.

There are many other one-day options such as inter-farm seminars, vet courses, and field days which will develop new skills and knowledge as well as being very motivational.

Quick questions & answers

When do I focus on training?

Training can and should happen all year round, especially on-farm.

Be realistic however, and make sure training can fit into your employee's roster whilst giving them time with family and friends. On most farms it is unrealistic to think much off-farm training can happen from calving through to mating. People only have so much energy to give and need non-work time to recharge the batteries.

For new employees it is a good idea to create a training plan in the first 2 - 4 weeks when things on farm are a bit quieter. This should be built into their orientation and will ensure they get up to speed quicker.

Summer and autumn are good times to work through existing employees' training plans for the coming year.

Benefits of providing training

  • Reduces work errors.
  • Improves work performance → better business success.
  • Staff feel valued that you are investing in them → Increased staff satisfaction.
  • Increased job satisfaction & motivation → better retention.
  • Staff have better skills & knowledge → can take on more responsibility.
  • Staff progressing and learning → increased retention.

How do I provide effective training on farm?

To make on-farm training effective you need to create a good atmosphere for learning to happen.

You need your employee to feel comfortable enough to try new things and if not successful the first time to give it another go. This means you need to be careful not to talk down to employees or dismiss any ideas they have from previous experience.

However don't assume what knowledge or experience your employees have - ask them. This will help to ensure that you don't under-explain concepts.

A good process to follow for training staff on-farm is:

  1. Break the skill to be taught into simple components.
  2. Explain to the employee why the skill is important.
  3. Discuss with the employee what they already know about the skill and determine what knowledge is missing.
  4. Demonstrate and explain the skill to the employee slowly. Pause between steps and be sure all steps can be clearly seen.
  5. Allow the employee to go through a skill step-by-step while the you talk through what is to be done and help out where needed.
  6. Allow the employee to demonstrate the skill on his/her own without input from you.
  7. Ask the employee to give feedback on how they did. Give feedback to the employee on how they performed the skill. Don't forget to note the positive points!
  8. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 as needed.

If you are going to conduct group on-farm training consider the team dynamics before you start. This may help you manage the different personalities.

Remember that training does not automatically lead to learning, a good way to reinforce learning for the person being trained is for them to train someone on the task. Observe them while they train someone else and only interrupt if necessary.

Providing feedback on their performance will also be valuable for their training. Feedback can be given in the form “I like the way you…….” followed by “I would like to see you…….”. This technique reinforces the positive steps your employee has made whilst giving an opportunity for further improvement.

Tips for effective on-farm training

Because farmers are very familiar with their own farming operation, it is common for many of them to underestimate or under-play the complexity of on-farm tasks.

It is better to err on the side of over-explanation when training employees on farm. This is more likely to make them feel good because they know half of it already, rather than feeling stupid because they didn’t quite understand.

Remember that people need time to practice a skill several or more times, otherwise they are likely to forget it.

Can I expect my employees to attend training on their day off?

Where possible it is best that employees complete the majority of their training during work time. This shows your employee how highly you value both them and the training, which increases motivation and also the likelihood of the training being completed.

Of course your roster may mean that some training does fall on days off and can't be changed. Agree upfront with your employee what will happen in these circumstances. It may be acceptable to you both that 80% of training occurs within rostered hours and 20% outside, or it may be that any training completed out of work hours is given back by time-in-lieu. The exact breakdown is likely to be influenced by who initiates the training and the costs (both financial and time) associated with the training.

Supporting training is a great way to help retain employees as they feel appreciated and that they have opportunities to learn and develop. Typically this will lead to your team being more engaged.

Off-farm training

Off-farm training could include discussion groups, field days, training days by vets etc. or it could be longer more formal training.

Check out Primary ITO to identify off-farm training options for the team, these include diplomas, level 2 – level 5 qualifications, and apprenticeship models.

Training does not have to be limited to traditional farming training. Other things to consider are:

  • Time management training
  • Outward Bound courses
  • Leadership training

Tips for effective off-farm training

Ensure that the training is relevant or desirable to your staff member. If they do not see the relevance of the training they may not be very motivated to complete it. The exception to this is if they have stated it is an interest to them for their future development.

Regularly discuss what your staff member is learning about off-farm. Provide practical examples to any theory they have learnt so they can see the relevance and how it fits into an actual dairy business.

Where possible allow your staff to train off-farm during their normal working hours. This indicates to them how much you value the training and shows your support. It also means their work-life balance is not impacted.

Give your staff the opportunity to put into practice what they have learnt off-farm, so it becomes real for them. Physically carrying out the task will help cement the learning. Remember that people need time to practice a new skill several or more times, otherwise they are likely to forget it.

Can I expect my employees to pay for their own training?

Generally training is paid for by the employer. The employee makes the commitment to better themselves and learn new skills and the employer provides the opportunity.

Initially training might be seen as a cost but really it should be viewed as an investment. Your business will benefit from the additional skills your employee gains and the enthusiasm they bring to the job.

Finding an employee a good coach or mentor is one of the most effective forms of training. Build this into the training plan you develop with your employee.

Last updated: Sep 2023

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