Farm management: Human resources – communication and training

In this series we discuss 2 critically important aspects: effective communication and training.

When you work with people you enter a different world from machines or any other farming system. You can, to a large extent, control or manage machines, production, harvesting, packing and even marketing. When it comes to people, however, you face completely different challenges – some fairly easy to handle, others very complex and difficult to resolve.

The professional farmer welcomes such challenges and looks constantly for ways to tackle and solve them. He does not complain about them because he knows human beings are his most valuable asset, and usually cost the most too. So, he wants to be sure they’re happy, productive and cost-effective in the business.

Gone are the days when people were simply “workers” on a farm, with little or no future, no prospects for growth, no job advancement and nothing to hold on to for themselves. We all have expectations and ambitions – some more than others – and can make a contribution.

The alert farmer will look for such signs in his workers and help to develop them to the benefit of farm and individual. In today’s business world, a win-win situation for all is the desired result.

Steven Covey writes, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, about win-win as a total philosophy of human relations. He describes it as co-operative, not competitive. In the past, people thought in terms of strong or weak, hard or soft, win or lose. But, as he says, that kind of thinking is flawed, because it is based on power and position rather than on principle.

A win-win situation is based on the belief that there’s enough for everybody; that my success is not achieved at the expense of your success. Win-win says it’s not about doing it your way or my way but in a better way.

To do so, you have to create an environment in which these principles can be practised. Let’s look at some of the basic steps we can take to achieve this.


The responsibility to communicate rests with you – the person in charge, or the communicator. This is often easier said than done, but it is important to remember it.

We don’t all communicate in the same way: some are quiet, preferring to say as little as possible; others are loud and noisy; yet others are careful about what they say, to avoid hurting others’ feelings. No 2 people are exactly the same when it comes to communicating.

The good manager will recognise these characteristics in his staff and be able to communicate with them appropriately. This doesn’t mean you should behave in the same way; what I’m saying is that you should try to understand them so that you can communicate more effectively.

Any communication – verbal or written – should have the following components:

It should be planned

Know what you are going to say and have it clear in your own mind. You will then be able to transfer it clearly to the person you are addressing. Know the “what” “why” and “how” of giving instructions.


What: “Vusi, we need to get the last of those potatoes into the shed”. (Note: “we”, not “I” or “you”. This creates a team [belonging] identity.)
Why: “You can see the clouds building up; it will probably rain tonight. And we don’t want to lose those last few potatoes.”
How: “Take the small tractor and trailer and get four people from the harvesting team to help you. That way you’ll finish more quickly.”

It should have a beginning, a middle and an end

This has been covered in the example given above.

It should be K.I.S.S. = Keep It Short & Simple

There’s nothing worse than long, complicated instructions that confuse more than they help.
It should offer the listener the opportunity to comment, ask questions and get clarification.

Don’t turn and walk away. Make sure Vusi understands. Ask him for feedback, and if he has a suggestion, listen.

If you like his idea, give him credit; say: “Thank you for that idea, let’s do it that way.”
Remember! We each have two ears and one mouth. Let’s use them in the same proportion – listen twice as much as we talk – that’s good communication!


You cannot expect someone to do a job properly if he or she doesn’t know what to do or understand what’s expected. Training is the key, and it can take different forms.

On-the-job training is where you – or someone else, equally senior – show(s) that person what to do and how to do it. Instead of leaving him to get on with the job, you need to go back regularly to see if he is doing it correctly and is comfortable doing so.

You can arrange for specialised training for individuals, such as tractor drivers or those who do the spraying of crops. Some organisations do this free of charge and will conduct the training on your farm.

General training is also available in things such as crop production, management and marketing, which might mean sending one or two people away on courses. Usually, with this type of training, funding is first obtained so that a group of farmers can be trained in a specific region.

Training is often neglected by farmers because they “don’t have the time”, or they “don’t have the money”, or they “can’t release the worker for the length of time needed for training”. These are excuses that will come back to haunt the farmer in the form of low productivity, higher costs, more accidents and unhappy staff.

The wise farmer will have a training plan for every person, as well as a budget. Training never stops and should be as much a part of the farming operation as planting and harvesting.

  • This article was written by Michael Cordes and first appeared in Farming SA.

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