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What Do You Need Help With?

Farming is a balance of physically hard work and important decision making. If you feel overwhelmed by the volume of physical labour and don’t have enough time for crop management and marketing, it might be time to hire someone to do the grunt work. Or if you feel underskilled in an area that you believe deserves more experience, you may need to hire someone to help in that area. Either way, you need to know exactly what you need help with before you take the step of hiring anyone.

When making this decision, most people start by trying to do a cost analysis on whether they can afford the wages of an employee. Before you even think about costs, you have to do some analysis on what you need done in the job. If you don’t, it is like walking into a farm implement dealership and asking how much you should spend on a new tractor without knowing whether you need it to pull a 60-foot drill or run the baler. I would guess a smart agricultural dealer will show you the tractor with the highest profit margin and tell you all the reasons why buying that particular tractor will save you time and money. Sure, you might be able to afford it and it might work out in the end, but it’s not worth taking that chance. I would hate for you to buy the four-wheel drive tractor because you can afford it when what you really need is a smaller, more efficient front-wheel assist tractor that will fit better with your other equipment. Being uninformed is not the best way to make such a large financial decision, not for a tractor and not when hiring an employee.

To get informed, start by sorting out what you will keep doing and what another person will do for you. Write it down. A clear description of the job you need done can help with all of the other decisions you must make about the job. These include:

Will I need someone full time? Year round?

What tasks should I be giving up? What tasks take the most time and add the least value?

What tasks should a hired person focus on?

How much time will these duties take per day, week, month or year?

What type of education and experience will a person need to work effectively and safely? What level of literacy and mathematical skill are needed?

What kind of decisions about safety, money, materials/supplies and managing their own time will the person make? Will this involve specific calculations or communication skills?

What type of equipment will they operate? Do employees need to bring their own tools?

Will they have to perform specific physical tasks, such as lift a certain amount of weight?

What temperatures, weather and other working conditions will the person need to handle?

Will they speak for me with customers or suppliers? Will they make decisions on my behalf?

What hours do I expect an employee to work? Do I expect them to work the same hours as I do?

How much time should I expect to spend training the person? How much time will they be expected to work alone?

How will I measure if a person doing the job is doing it well or poorly?

How much will I have to pay to be fair, and to attract and keep someone in the job?

Do I need an employee? Or is it possible for me to hire a company less expensively to do certain work?

Many questions need answers before you really know what you require. Clear answers will help you communicate what you need done, by whom, when, where and what you will give them in return for their work. Writing out your analysis in a job description will give you a powerful communication tool to inform potential employees about the job, help you train an employee properly, and hold him or her accountable for doing the job well.

I remember a farmer with a relatively big operation who decided it was time for him to hire someone outside of the family for the first time. He had an idea of what he wanted the person to do and what he believed he should pay. Unfortunately, he didn’t describe exactly he needed a person to be capable of and responsible for. He ran an ad for someone who would be responsible for planting, cultivating and harvesting crops, caring for livestock and operating farm equipment. He got applicants, but none of them had hired or supervised other people before, and none of them had been responsible for marketing programs or purchasing machinery. The farmer needed a farm manager and had advertised for a labourer. This farm manager did need to spend time managing crops, caring for livestock and operating equipment, but the responsibilities that would have the biggest impact on the success of the farm were the ones involving the most complex decision making. Unfortunately that part was left out of the ad, which created a lot of confusion and frustration for the applicants and the farmer.

Doing a detailed analysis and preparing a job description will save you time and money. It will save you from advertising for someone with the wrong skills, or interviewing or hiring people who cannot do what you need or can do much more than you require but demand more money than your operation can currently afford. It will save you from incorrectly estimating what you can afford to pay an employee and making the decision to hire before you are ready. If you do not have the time to spend on analyzing your requirements, you do not have the time to hire and manage an employee.

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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