Going back to employment basics

�Other than producing something that sells, your most important decision is who to employ, because they can make or break you.�

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‘Other than producing something that sells, your most important decision is who to employ, because they can make or break you.’

Managing a FARMING BUSINESS involves mastering a myriad things: human motivation, financial issues, marketing, soil science, diesel mechanics, hydrology and engineering, to name a few. And the problem is that all of these need attention at the same time. The secret to good management, as someone once said, is not “to do things right”, but more importantly, “to do the right things”, that is, the basics. If we mess them up, we’re on the road to ruin. Most basic of all is to have a market. And watch it – if you’re okay today, don’t think you’ll be okay tomorrow. Demand is changing faster than ever before. Other than producing something that sells, your most important business decision is probably who you employ, because they can make or break you. Yet I’m always astounded by the casual way some farmers make employment decisions, particularly regarding farm labour.

Effective staff selection is hard work. It calls for time, mental effort and skill, but it’s crucial. It’s tough to get rid of a bad egg these days and the damage done by a dysfunctional employee can be immense. Conversely, the pay-off for making the right choice can be huge. Let’s start with unskilled labour – remember, that while you might only be looking for physical labour now, these are the people who one day will be your charge-hands, supervisors and even managers.

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First basic step – the candidate should go through a thorough medical examination. Shocked? Never done this before? Well start to, even with seasonal employees. Employing someone without knowing the state of their health is crazy. Get it done sensitively and professionally and make sure you don’t transgress the law in terms of respect for the rights of the person concerned.

Second basic step – don’t employ functionally illiterate people. You don’t need geniuses, but insist on a minimum level of literacy. There are some excellent assessment tests available. Every job today requires some literacy, apart from the fact that illiterate people have absolutely no upward potential in your work force.

Third basic step – get hold of the individual’s employment history and put it on file. Now follow up and make absolutely sure it’s all genuine. You must speak to the previous employer and when you do, ask them direct and carefully prepared questions. Don’t ask “What were they like?” Rather ask for confirmation that the person did in fact work for the length of time stated on their CV, what their job title was or whether they had alcohol abuse problems.

Fourth basic step – check up on the validity of any qualifications claimed by the potential employee. False education certificates are easy to get these days.

Fifth basic step – never employ anyone without giving the person or persons to whom they will report (the charge-hand or supervisor) the opportunity to meet with them and come to their own conclusion. A boss is ultimately responsible for the performance of their staff and if they had no involvement in the staff’s employment, well you can’t really hold the staff accountable, can you? And that’s about as basic as you can get. – Peter Hughes ([email protected] or call (013) 745 7303).