The Failure of Reduction When It Comes to Working With People

Remember the movie Better Off Dead? That movie is a family Christmas tradition for us. Lane Meyer has to ski a dangerous mountain to prove himself to Beth. He seeks advice and receives the most boile

All the grazing management tips you need

Subscribe to read this article and over 2,500 more!

Subscribe today!

If you're already a subscriber, log in here.

3 thoughts on “The Failure of Reduction When It Comes to Working With People

  1. Terrific insights on my own management challenges, first in the business world and now full time on the ranch. I can see a fairly clear genetic link to my father and brother. Thanks for the great article!

  2. In my experience, the best farm employers have a four-step process for getting something done with a new employee.

    1.) Explain the why of a job. “We need to move the cattle to fresh grass every day because it provides high quality feed and gives the pasture as long as possible to recover.”

    2.) Explain the how of a job. “Every day we let the cattle into the next strip, move the water, take down the back fence, and move it forward. If there are extra fenceposts, we leave them in the corner of what will become the next strip.”

    3.) Do it with them. A few times. Be ready to answer questions. Point out why you do things in a certain way. “We put the extra fenceposts here so that no matter who is moving the cattle tomorrow they know where to find the extra fence posts, and we don’t lose track of them or have to run all the way back to the barn if we need two more.” Or, “I like to walk across the field with the reels first and then go back and set up the posts once the line has been established.” Each time you do it with them, let them do more, and observe their technique. It’ll be pretty clear if they’ve got it or not.

    4.) Make sure they understand that you’re showing them a way that has worked for you, and that they are free to do it any way that’s more efficient for them as long as the key goals are met. Make sure that the key goals are clear: that the cattle are moved efficiently, on time, and with as little stress as possible; that no one has to search the whole farm to find fence posts; and that fence posts aren’t lost in the pasture; and that the fence is constructed such that cattle aren’t getting out. Also make sure they know that if they ever feel that something is unsafe, they should listen to that instinct and talk to you about it. After a few co-piloted goes, they say to the employee, “Do you want me to come with you to move the cattle today, or are you good to do it on your own?”

    Pro tip: The first time you ask them to do it on their own, do not be in St. Louis. Be reachable. And check on it later.

    The biggest area where farming is different from coding is that you can’t assume that people know *how* to do any job, step by step. You hire coders who know how to write code — they’ve learned it in school or on a previous job — so theoretically if you tell them you want an app that will take data from a remote sensor and tell you when it’s time to irrigate, they should be able to do it.

    But you’ll notice that there are lots of different ways to do physical work. Some people have big hands, some have long legs. Everybody needs to do things differently to be as efficiently as possible. That’s where you have to let them go. But unlike coding, there’s nowhere to outsource the learning of the basic skills of doing physical farm work.

  3. Thank you for that insight. It helps explain why I am baffled when someone I manage doesn’t just take the “fix this problem so that Y doesn’t happen” as a clear direction and performance standard and come up with a creative solution. I too prefer to reduce things to the standard I hold people to and the task to be done but let them figure out how to do it. You are correct in that that doesn’t always work.

    I’d love to learn more about how you are interviewing people to come up with those who will thrive in that sort of environment. That is a skill I need to develop.

Comments are closed.

Translate »