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Kristine's Blog

Upward Mobility as a Recruiting and Retention Tool

 

 

When implementing your HR system, it is critically important that you begin with the end in mind. Taking time to consider how to include upward mobility, or the opportunity for employees to "climb the ladder", in your farming operation could save you time and stress later.  The ability to advance from an entry level position, such as calf feeder, to a more challenging, higher paying role is often important to employees, and may even lead to succession options for farm families that don't have one in place.  

Done correctly, succession planning can identify long-range needs and cultivate internal talent to meet those needs. Succession planning as part of employee development typically focus on a one- three year process of preparing employees—not preselecting them—for new roles in the organization.

The first step in this process is to ensure that career development and succession opportunities are communicated in your HR practices (especially during recruiting and hiring phases) and reinforced in your work environment. Your HR or Hiring Manager must consider HRM approaches that keep employees engaged, motivated and excited about a future on the farm.  Over the years, companies have realized that workers who feel trapped in one role may not stay; one study conducted in 2013 found that 26% of employees leave their workplace because they don't have career development options.  

Best practices in building mobility include individual development plans, internal promotions, job enlargement or enrichment, cross training, "stretch" training, peer coaching, job shadowing, job rotations and leadership development programs - all addressed in subsequent blogs.. Hiring a "career achiever" over a "job seeker" can be accomplished if organizations make talent management and employee development a shared business and HR responsibility. Your leadership team must consistently emphasize the importance of talent management and actively engage in the employee development process at all levels, not just for middle management. 

Why Employee Development is Good for Business 

  • Increases worker productivity. Workers who receive training and educational opportunities are more productive. 
  • Reduces turnover. The more money an organization spends on employee training and development, the greater the concern that the highly skilled people will leave and take their knowledge somewhere else; however, research has shown that employee training actually reduces turnover and absenteeism.  The old adage, "what if we develop them and they leave?" has been replaced by, "what if we don't (develop them) and they stay?"
  • Aligns employee development with the organization's needs. Employers should let strategic needs drive development. For example, facing impending retirement of older workers, a farm might broaden coworkers' skills so they can add variety to their jobs and take on new responsibilities. Such measures could encourage experienced workers to stay on the job.

Workers have made it clear that they want chances to grow on the job. Sixty-two percent of responding employees cited “opportunities to use skills and abilities” as a very important factor in determining job satisfaction, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2011 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement research report. That came second to job security (63 percent) and was the highest percentage for the “skills and abilities” category since 2004.  

In addition to the developmental track, HR must also ensure that the business entity provides ways for employees to be more effective in their current roles. For HR, the challenge is to show both owners and employees that development brings benefits. Without a clear payoff, owners will balk at training costs and at lost productivity time. Moreover, employees will be less enthusiastic about development programs if they fail to see gains in their job performance and career opportunities.

 

Employment Development Methods 

On farms, most employee development occurs on the job, with a supervisor, manager or an experienced co-worker leading development activity in the context of the actual work environment.   If technology is not a barrier, the new Pure Michigan Talent Connect elearning Soft Skills Program, can be useful for developing important character traits that we desire in long term employees.  Leadership and management development typically occur off site, and must include strategic thinking and initiatives to align long term career development with succession strategies.

Lastly, employees of diversity are often faced, by percentage, with less opportunities for advancement than other employees.. Proactive employers who are hiring Hispanics must ensure that there are adequate opportunities for advancement and job security for everyone.

Contact Kristine Ranger at 517-974-5697 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

Lessons from the Little Red Hen

Have you ever wondered about the origin of the expression "take them under your wing"? I can tell you from personal experience that this particular piece of advice has been adapted from the farm, and for good reason. Last week, just after we finished culling our poultry flock and I successfully convinced the kids that "the pretty one" hadn't suffered, I found this quote:

‘Don't wait for someone to take you under their wing. Find a good wing and climb up underneath it.’ – Frank C. Bucaro

Thinking about chickens and childhood, I came to a puzzling question. Why would anyone believe that the word chicken is synonymous with "being afraid?" Obviously they have never been in our yard on a typical summer day! Until that fateful day last week, we had 13 young roosters who did exactly what they wanted, when they wanted, and certainly not what we wanted. What they wanted most was to get out of their pen. Every morning they squawked and carried on until we opened the doors to freedom. Often, it took all five of us to get them penned in the evening, sometimes leaving several stragglers behind till morning.

They left lots behind for us too. Even though it's more humane to let them free to go foraging for food, we quickly discovered that 21 chickens do "go" everywhere. Their droppings were a nuisance, the wood chips were scattered, and my plants were permanently disrupted. But there isn't an unwanted bug on any of our garden plants. 

Besides the flowerbeds, this last bunch of renegades especially liked our garage. Quite often we leave the garage door open slightly for the cats, but chickens are quick learners too. No space was too small for them to explore. Watching a chicken crawl under the garage door makes me wonder why I can't look more sophisticated crawling under the pasture fence!

I remember our first brood that hatched two years ago before my dog feasted on Hector, the rooster, for lunch. Henrietta, a little red hen, was an excellent mother. This family unit decided that the tree outside of our second story bedroom window was perfect for their evening roost. At the exact same time every night, she would fly up to a sturdy limb approximately ten feet off the ground. One by one the baby chicks followed. The first two, the bravest, got the preferred place perched between her legs, balanced precariously on the limb, out of sight. The next two - one on each side - peeked out from under her wings. The stragglers squeezed in as close as possible for the long night ahead. The proud rooster stood guard atop a nearby limb, crowing loudly every 10 minutes at first light.

We watched all summer as this ritual was repeated nightly. We were amazed that Henrietta could continue to accommodate her brood, despite their ever-increasing size. Even when the chicks were older, they still preferred the protection of her wing. Our second experience with baby chicks this past summer wasn't quite so entertaining. Even though all five hens shared the job of incubating the eggs, they fought constantly over final ownership and rights to boss hen. One hen reigned queen and claimed most of the 27 baby chicks as hers, even though it was impossible for her to manage them all. The other hens appeared to be in depression, but they never quit trying.

I learned that we didn't need to worry about any of them. If the baby chicks wanted warmth and protection, they found a good wing nearby and climbed up underneath it.  It might be wise for all of us to remember this technique….and the "chickens" who weren't afraid to try it!

Contact Kristine Ranger at 517-974-5697 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Adults Learners Are Working for You: Problem Solvers

Adults don’t have to be spoon fed.  You can present them with a business challenge, a bit of teaching regarding the resources and technology available to them, then tell them to figure out a way to address the issue quickly and effectively. Given the time, resources and the support they need to solve the problem, they’ll do it and feel good about themselves.  As an added bonus, they’re more likely to stay totally engaged throughout the process, much like the ants who are committed to the solution depicted BlogImage Ants2here.

Some people in teaching roles make the mistake of thinking that they need to be the “fountain of all wisdom” regarding the teaching topic, and while sometimes this is the case (such as with the delivery of compliance teaching, where someone really needs to know all of the rules and regulations, or the use of specific protocol), most of the time this is just added pressure on the teacher.  That scenario does not create a better learning experience nor does it increase retention. 

Bottom Line: If you are striving for retention through application, remember to give your learners a problem to solve. A tough and relevant one, not an easy one. This will keep them engaged and drive deeper learning that also lasts longer. 

Tell me and I forget. 

Teach me and I remember.  

Involve me and I learn.

Contact Kristine Ranger at 517-974-5697 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Adults Learners Are Working for You: Just-in-Time Learners

Adults inherently prefer to learn new concepts and skills at the point when they are most relevant, which means their attention is greatest when the skill is being (or about to be) applied is a real world situation (or a simulation thereof). And in the modern work environment where most employees have plenty of items on their task list every day, this preference for just-in-time learning is intensified. For those who are teaching, this highlights the need for practical application of skills and concepts in the work environment. 

There are ample opportunities to practice relevance in a farm setting where tasks can change on a daily basis. 

Don’t assume that participants will connect the dots and understand exactly how the skills and concepts will apply to their world; tell them, show them and require them to do a teach back. Find a “teachable moment” so that participants can apply the skills and concepts immediately.  Remember that if the learner didn’t learn, the teacher didn’t teach.

Contact Kristine Ranger at 517-974-5697 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

How to Drill Down for Greater Learning & Accountability

One of the most difficult skills to learn and implement in the workplace is that of holding others accountable. For specific tips, please download and read my article entitled, “Holding Others Accountable” (download here)

In the ideal workplace, everyone holds everyone else accountable to agreed upon actions, norms or improvement efforts. Cohesive teams do this well. It’s a simple concept, but hard to accomplish because high trust is a prerequisite for the environment. Unfortunately, many  employees believe it’s the job of a manager or supervisor to hold people accountable, simply because they are the ones teaching new skills or relaying information to others about a change initiate.  In reality, these folks just need to get out of the middle. 

One of the easiest ways to enable them in this task is by using cascading communication -- a process undertaken by leadership to BlogImage Ants1ensure the decisions and messages of great significance reach employees at every level in the chain of command.  This technique is most often used to achieve clarity on aim or purpose, roles and behavior in an organization, but it is also effective for change initiatives. 

Think of an army of ants.  They all seem to know their job and how they contribute to the end result. Each ant is committed to doing their part and contributing to the end goal without any blaming, supervision, or conflict. They use readily available tools to get the job done. 

Likewise, in the workplace, middle managers must have access to instructional tools that will help them flourish as teachers, role models and coaches.  With them, they can be leveraged to drive accountability. Without them, they can become a bottleneck. This group of leaders need access to a variety of on-the-job resources to reinforce concepts, protocol or improvement efforts, including:

• Coaching discussion starters and questions 

• Job Aides

• Control Charts

• Experience in spotting the “teachable moment”.

• Evaluation techniques for an employee teach back

• Role play scenarios

• Sample email or text messages to send to participants at pre determined intervals

• Online videos or podcasts. 

By actively engaging managers in the reinforcement process and clearly defining their expected role in providing post-teaching coaching discussions, you are much more likely to drive successful adoption of new skills, habits and behavior in the workforce.

Contact Kristine Ranger at 517-974-5697 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Blood, Sweat and Gears

What is it about people and their cars that makes you see red?  On recent trips to S. Carolina and Texas I encountered drivers who thought they ruled the highway, the parking lots and the side streets --yelling or gesturing when I unintentionally bumped their car door with mine, or honking when I didn't move fast enough at stop signs.  To really understand my frustration, you have to imagine me at 5'6" in the drivers seat of a dilapidated old Datsun Hatchback; without a/c; owned by my 5'8" daughter; on a hot day.  The driver's seat is permanently pushed back as far as it will go; my right leg is stretched out as far as it will go, and I'm sweating profusely while frantically trying to push the clutch in --while going uphill! 

I may not be totally competent with a stickshift, but I am competent on a broomstick and I was tempted to let loose on those poor souls.  Thankfully, I held my emotions in check and modeled the appropriate behavior to my daughter. 

When faced with others peoples behavior, it can be difficult to act responsibly and respectfully.  Over the years, I have learned that true leadership is identified by how one reacts to feedback and responds to change levers. For instance, do you admit your mistakes or blame others? Do you avoid change or develop a theory for imporvement and test it?

Being a big picture thinker has afforded me the opportunity to test many theories over the years.  That one ability, or tendency, probably best explains why I enjoy learning about Dr. Deming and his System of Profound Knowledge. And speaking of cars and gears, Dr. Deming started his transformation of managment with the auto industry in Japan, believing that "everyone doing his best is not the answer; it is first necessary that people know what to do". Furthermore, he believed that management everywhere needs help to succeed, a belief that I share and put into practice on farms, with non-profits, and in all types of business entities. I especially resonate with his commandments to drive out fear and to adopt self-improvement for everyone, not just leaders.

Dr. Deming envisioned workplaces where there is joy in work and joy in learning - what a concept! As a former teacher, I can appreciate what that would look like. 

For over 25 years, his philosophies have been used to transform the way organizations do business. This new approach requires new knowledge, an appreciation for a system, and it must be geared towards the creation and actions of high performing teams. So, instead of blaming others or seeing red when encountered with a problem, my clients rely on me to dive in, identify barriers and help them optimize the system so everyone will gain.  It sure beats the alternative of high blood pressure; dented, damaged or lost relationships, and poor role models.

Contact Kristine Ranger at 517-974-5697 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

What Teaching Taught Me

While creating my web content, I was guided by the wisdom of Dean Spitzer, author of "Transforming Performance Measurement", in rethinking how we measure success.  One item that struck a chord for me was understanding the difference between evaluation and performance measurement.   As a former teacher, I have some strong views about measurement - specifically, the measurement of learning through testing.  I never could grasp the value of rote memorization in the classroom and my gut instincts told me that it was the wrong way to the right answer.  Speaking of guts, I knew from students in my first teaching job who still recall the pile of stinking, dripping intestines I used in my unit on bovine digestion that engaging the learner in the lesson (we called it "hands on learning" in Agriculture & Natural Resources Education preparation) was more effective in creating a lasting impression.  In my most recent classroom experience, I changed my delivery system to encompass all levels and styles of learning by using self-paced study units. To downplay the need for measurement, all subsequent testing was done with open notes.  I also had a more pressing goal: to teach students basic study skills that included 1) coming to class prepared, 2) completing the assignments on time, and 3) utilizing resources that were provided before moving on to the next level. Mastery of the subject matter was secondary and sadly enough, some students failed at both.  On the positive side, test scores improved drastically at first, but then leveled off as students tried to beat the system.  They began to focus only on completing the assigned work for credit, rather than doing the assignment correctly to pass the test.  Bad idea. Soon they were failing in study habits, the daily work and their tests.  

What I have learned from Spitzer is that I really wasn't measuring my students progress at all, I was evaluating their performance.  The central component of the word evaluation is "value", meaning when you evaluate, you place a value on whatever you are evaluating.  I don't know anyone who enjoys having a value placed on them and their performance. Since the outcome of an evaluation is a judgement, that opened doors to suspicions about the fairness of the process and my motives.  You get the idea.  Measurement should be a nonjudgemental process of collecting, analyzing, and using information for understanding whatever is being measured. In systems thnking they use Control Charts for this purpose. 

Just as measurement in organizations creates the basis for effective management, my understanding of measurement in the classroom created the basis for my teaching style. I shunned traditional forms of grading in favor of a format that I thought would be more inclusive, interactive, and innovative, three requirements of a good performance measurement system, without fully understanding the role of each within a system. In retrospect, I realize that I tried to change one aspect of a system without accounting for the impact of that change on the system as a whole.  Given adequate resources, I could have redesigned my entire approach with input and feedback from the students to ensure that they were doing the assignments for the right reason (to learn), and not for a reward ("A" grade), which is exactly why organizations need to decouple measurement from rewards. The fact that many students still failed was significant.  It signaled a need for better two-way communication about how to improve (coaching and mentoring) and how to evaluate one's own progress - two skills that are desperately needed to have an engaged workplace.  And now you know: I may have failed some students in more ways than one, but I don't regret it because without failure, improvement is limited.

Contact Kristine Ranger at 517-974-5697 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

What Kind of People Do You Have?

Do you recognize any of these people in your workplace?

  • Employees are responsible vs. employees who are given an inch - then take a mile.
  • Employees who want to contribute and do good work vs. employees who do just what is required.
  • Employees care about their teammates and the company vs. employees who feel that it is just another job.
  • Employees who want the company to succeed vs. employees who really don't give a damn.
  • Employees who come to work everyday vs. employees who are here today, but uncertain about tomorrow.

These lists of character traits were developed by managers working in a toxic environment and struggling to understand the truth of Dr. Deming's famous 14 points: Drive out fear.  To do so, they decided to ask, "If there were no fear, what would there be?" Their answer: "Trust!" 

The list describes employees who can be trusted, or who exhibit trustworthy behaviors. The list on the right describes employees who can't be trusted - those exhibiting untrustworthy behaviors.  The "aha" moment in this exercise came when this group of managers realized that only about 5% of thier workforce fit into the latter category.  Subsequently, they also realized that their policies, practices and procedures were written for the 5%. To correct this problem, they embarked on a year-long process of improving their knowledge and structures while also offering self improvement options to employees in order to increase trust and eliminate fear. 

In this real-life example, a company moved from an authority-driven, Industrial Age management style to one that is talent-driven; one that relies on Human, Social and Intellectual Capital to drive the business forward.  In today's Knowledge Age, trust is essential because people choose to (or not to) share their knowledge!  Leaders and managers are still responsible for the environment (system), but the difference is in how they approach tasks: allowing people to be innovative, self-directed and responsible. In the Culture of Engagement that I envision, individual contributions are valued, employees are engaged, and teams are capable of performing at high levels.  

One of my goals in working with clients is to eliminate blaming and to identify the barriers that prevent them from capitalizing on talent and knowledge.  One of the first challenges in that process is helping leaders understand that they don't implement change - they facilitate it. As we know from Dr. Deming, leaders and managers are responsible for improving the system and unfortunately, bad systems get the best people everytime.  Now that you know what kind of people are needed for top performance, ask yourself: Do our employees work for our company? Or, do they just show up?

Contact Kristine Ranger at 517-974-5697 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.