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Ready To Be “The Boss?”

Deciding if you can afford to hire an employee is the easy part. Deciding if you are ready to become another person’s manager is harder. This is one of those important decisions you have to make before really knowing what you are getting yourself into. I wish I could give you a formula that translates how much time it takes you to do a given task into how much time it will take you to manage another person doing it, but as far as I know no such formula exists. What I can do instead is give you some idea of how your job as a farmer will change to include your job as a manager.

As a farmer, you already invest and manage other capital resources in your operation. These include your own time, money, land, machinery, seed, herbicide, pesticide, fertilizer, and many others. Your goal in managing all of these capital resources is to be able to sell your outputs — the grain you harvest — for more than the cost of all of your inputs. You probably know from experience that doing a good job of managing those resources means investing a lot of time in planning, organizing, record keeping, maintenance, measuring, and making constant adjustments to what you do with those inputs to get the best possible outputs. To make the best decisions you can and minimize your costs and risks, you probably also do what you can to stay informed of changes to government regulations affecting your operation, new technologies and changes in seed, chemical, machinery, the commodity markets, and even the weather. If you currently do an impressive job of record keeping, you may even know how much of your time each of those activities takes.

As a manager of people, you must do the same things. The human capital resources you manage will need your time to plan, train, organize, direct, keep records on, submit required remittances to comply with government regulations, measure performance, share information with, retain and motivate. If you have an idea of how much time it takes to manage the administrative functions of your nonhuman capital resources, you can “guesstimate” it will take at least as much time to manage the administrative functions of your human capital resources.

Of course, there is also the challenging fact that humans are more difficult to manage because we have our own ideas, preferences, skills and attitudes that make us somewhat unpredictable. That is why I added some things to the list of what you must do as a manager when you are managing people. These include: train, direct, share information and motivate.

IF ONLY PEOPLE WERE LIKE TRUCKS

You do not have to find what motivates a truck, you just have to maintain it — change the oil, wash it, put fuel in it, watch the tire pressure — and then it does what you want it to. People need more motivation. People need you to communicate with them, build effective working relationships with them, and reward them. This takes time and effort. How much will depend on your skill and experience working with people, and the employee’s skill and interest in doing the tasks you require.

If an employee does not know how and does not want to do a task, you will have to be directive and work very closely with them. However, if you invest time and attention in training a person on how you want things done and convincing them that doing the job is good for the business and for themselves, eventually they will give you performance returns greater than your time investment with them. The more skilled a person is at a particular task, and the more interested they are in doing it, the less time you should spend with them. In fact, if you do not change to provide fewer directives once an employee understands how and why they need to do a job well, it can backfire.

For example, a manager I worked with named Bob wanted to terminate an employee. Ted, the employee, had a lot of experience from another, bigger operation but had only been with Bob for about six months. In a lengthy discussion, I learned Bob felt he needed to terminate Ted because Ted was objecting to Bob’s directions, and because he was upset that Ted called him “a micro-manager.” I had to ask Bob some tough questions about why he was monitoring Ted so closely. I encouraged Bob to give Ted the chance to try some of the things he had done for his previous employer. Bob was not convinced, but agreed to give Ted a month before making a final decision.

While I would have suggested Bob communicate it differently, he basically said, “Okay Ted, if you are such a hot-shot, then show me what you can do!” Ted did, and managed to impress Bob. It is not always so simple, and giving a brand new employee that much freedom is not always a good idea, but this time it worked.

In addition to the time required for human resources administration, you have to be ready to invest time in learning about your employee’s skills, experience, abilities, ideas, preferences and attitudes as it can give you the information you need to be a good manager. Most of this time needs to be spent working with the person once you have hired them, but you can learn a lot about a person before you make them a job offer. In my next column I will talk about the recruitment process and what you can learn before you “take the plunge.”

Barbara Weselak, CHRP, was raised on a mixed farm in Manitoba and is now a senior manager in the Consulting Services area of Meyers Norris Penny. She specializes in helping clients in a variety of industries improve their human resources. You can contact her at 204-788-6061 or [email protected]

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