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Quantifying People

Dan Korff, Future Farmers Network Chair, considers the importance of investing in quality relationships in agriculture.

We can measure almost anything in agriculture. I am often engaged in conversation based around what can be measured, what should be measured and what isn’t being measured but should be.

One thing that is very hard to measure, not only for our industry but for most, is the value of investment in people. Anecdotally, we know a good people manager when we see one. They have low staff turnover, they receive large numbers of applications to job advertisements (if they even have to advertise at all) and the people in their direct team as well as those who work with them in other ways, sing their praises. And, in my experience, their business is more often than not extremely successful.

Culture is hard to put a value on, yet we gain an instinctive feeling as soon as we walk into a culturally strong or weak workplace.

One thing that is very hard to measure, not only for our industry but for most, is the value of investment in people.
Dan Korff, Future Farmers Network Chair

Figures can however be placed against the cost of turnover to business. Whilst each scenario will be different, an MLA & AWI commissioned study (Attracting and retaining staff in Australia’s beef, sheep and wool industries) from 2008 found that the average cost of turnover for a farm is around $33,500 per employee and that the average industry-wide cost of turnover is between $336 million and $364 million.

Can we afford that?

Do we want to afford that?

I put it almost in the same category as when we start feeding out retained grain (grain we have grown and stored on farm), many people justify it by saying: ‘well, we’ve already got it so it’s not costing me anything’; which is in fact not true. The allusion is created because we are not engaging in a physical cash transaction.

Like this example, we cannot afford to discount the value of investing (and I don’t necessarily mean financial investment) in people.

A 2014 study commissioned by MLA (Attracting and retaining staff in the red meat industry) found that the top five things that predict higher levels of engagement with work were:

1.       Being trusted and valued;

2.       Manager being concerned with developing individuals and building a supportive environment;

3.       Overall job satisfaction;

4.       Effective communication between managers and staff; and

5.       Attractive conditions of employment i.e. hours, leave, non-cash items.

Not many of those actually require much financial investment.

It could be as simple as sitting down with your staff individually and asking them a few questions about how they are going and if they are enjoying the role, and what they might like to do more or less of. By making the time itself can have a marked difference.

In our industry - especially on farm – quality relationships are king and no matter how well someone can do a job, if we don’t get along with them, trust them and are able to empathise with them, we are only making our own and their lives harder, and none of us need that!

Dan Korff is Chair of the Future Farmers Network. This article first appeared in The Land, Fairfax Ag Media, "Future Farmers Network: Staff culture is key to industry success".

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