Motivating beef cattle farm employees
Respecting the employee’s psychological needs
By Ronnie Cons
Every successful manager knows that a motivated employee is a productive employee. The key to motivating employees is to create an internal drive in the employee’s mind to carry out his duties at the most optimal manner that is consistent with the objective of maximizing the profitability of the operation.
Many job functions have to be carried out successfully by beef cattle farm employees in order to create a successful and profitable cattle operation. Most commercial cattle farms including cow calf operations and especially stocker and feedlot operations have employees working for them. In addition, even family-owned cattle farms often have to deal with temporary or part-time employees for particular needs. In cow calf operation, those employees have to manage and be concerned with many details including: the proper shelter and feed intake of the cows; signs of illness in the cows; wellbeing and stress level of the pregnant cows; the successful impregnation of the cows; delivery of the calves; growth of the calves; weaning of calves; making sure that all bio security protocols are followed, and many other details. The cow calf operation has to be run successfully on all these fronts if they expect to fulfill their objective of profitably producing high-quality weaned calves. In a stocker or feedlot operation, the employees also have many functions to be carried out to make sure the cattle are healthy and growing at an optimal and cost effective rate.
The more motivated the cattle farm employee the more s/he will be careful to make sure that all the above details are being taken care of – which means a more profitable operation. For example, if employees are not motivated in their tasks, a serious lapse in bio security can occur, which could be very costly for the farm operation. For example, not being actually sincerely concerned about the cows’ and calves’ food intake and wellbeing will in effect lead to lower-quality cows and reduced calve growth.
On the other hand, a motivated employee is one that will really care that the calves and older cattle are well taken care of.
But is it really possible to motivate employees to care so much about the operation and their job duties? The answer is yes, but the right strategies must be developed and implemented by management. Of course, we are all aware that the field of motivating employees is a large one, with many varying opinions and philosophies as to the best way to motivate employees to be effective and hard workers. Every manager in any kind of operation must decide how to motivate the persons under his charge. But sadly, many managers have misconceptions about what approach to use, and often resort to tactics and strategies that actually result in unmotivated employees.
The two basic approaches to motivate employees is the “negative reinforcement” approach, where employees are penalized (monetary penalties, demotions, job loss, insults) and the “positive reinforcement” approach, where employees are rewarded for adequately performing their duties (pay raises, promotions, stock options). For example, there is the hard manager approach who believes that instilling fear of punishment or penalties to salaries will maximize productivity. The result is often the opposite – upset employees who feel abused and mistreated who thus end up being less concerned about the success of the operation.
Then there is the manager who believes that money is the main motivator (positive reinforcement). Do such and such an activity at such a level of performance and you will get a bonus of X dollars. Interestingly, research shows that money is not the biggest motivator of behaviour, thus they are not using the optimal strategy. Kenneth Kovach of George Mason University did a study that found some surprising results as to what employees really want, and what motivates them. The most important factors, in descending order were: interesting work; appreciation of work; feeling in on things; job security and then wages. We see that internal psychologically based issues are what really touches the employee and makes him tick. It thus behooves managers to think and respect the psychological needs and profile of his or her employees if they really expect to get the best out of them.
Following are some suggestions for motivating employees:
- Make sure that each employee finds his position interesting. This can be done by HR before job placement to make sure the employee is matched with the position that is most to his liking. Of course the more interesting the position the better the performance. Later, job satisfaction surveys should be done with the potential for a job transfer to another duty more to the liking of the employee. Nothing hurts motivation and performance like being “stuck in a dead end job” where the employee performs only minimal duties just to avoid being fired.
- Managers must make sure to show their appreciation of the employees work with verbal feedback and congratulations for a job well done. A good word goes a long way to make the employee feel he is appreciated, which will make him feel a part of the company and will lead to higher motivation. Farm owners and managers should take a seminar in motivating employees and should be taught what to say and what not to say to employees. We all know that one badly placed comment can harm the ego of an employee and cause motivation and performance to drop. Informal, regular face-to-face meetings with employees should be instituted where the employees get a chance to express their feelings and any complaints. Managers must make sure to convey that this comments are appreciated and that the employees will not “lose” by them.
- Managers must show respect to their employees by making them feel in on things. They must include them in operational meetings discussing the wellbeing of the beef cattle and other issues. The opinions of the employees must be appreciated and considered, as they are on the front lines and have the feedback information that managers need. Proposals and recommendations should be encouraged and shown to be appreciated and valued. A valued employee is a motivated employee who will feel more committed to the success of the cattle operation.
- Managers must make sure that the employees feel that they have job security. This will also allow employees to focus on the long-term success of the operation.
- Of course employees must be paid their fair wages.
Following the above advice should hopefully lead to happier and more motivated employees and thus a more profitable beef cattle operation.
Ronnie P. Cons is executive vice-president of C&C Packing Inc., a leading Canadian meat and poultry distributor. He can be reached at 514-461-5202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org