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Managing employees should be top concern

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Many farms, ranches and ag businesses across Wyoming are family owned and operated, but University of Wyoming Extension Educator John Hewlett comments managing employees can be key in operations. 

“Within the business of agriculture, it makes things easier for managers if employees better understand where they fit,” Hewlett says. “We should develop a system for evaluating employee responsibilities in addition to the work capacity for some employees.”

Employees should understand what they are responsible for and how to do their jobs, which means that employers must take an active role in managing employees.


Hewlett notes that one of the most important aspects of evaluating performance is setting up a communication structure with employees.

“This implies that we should have conversations so employees understand what is expected,” he says. “If there are questions, we can interact to clarify.”

Open lines of communication help employers to avoid wrecks in the operation where employees thought they had authority to act and didn’t or did not understand their role.

“The idea is to avoid a wreck down the road,” Hewlett says. “We want to enhance employee ability, which also includes direct training.”


To enhance employee abilities, Hewlett notes that it is important to discover what motivates them.

“A lot of people think motivation is all about pay, but those of us in agriculture are probably not involved in what we are doing because of the pay,” he says. “Employees don’t enter jobs necessarily for the pay.”

Employees are also motivated by the possibility for experience, the location of the career, the responsibility or the challenges involved.

“We have to take these things into account,” Hewlett says. “Pay and performance are the biggest things we have control over. But are there possibilities for indirect compensation? Is that clear to the employee? There might be a need for communication so that everyone is clear on compensation.”

The chance for advancement may be another motivating factor.


Those employees who also supervise others are particularly important on ag operations, and Hewlett notes that they are the linchpins of the operation.

“They are caught in the middle,” he says. “Sometimes they are part of the crew and accomplishing the day-to-day work, but other times they are the point at which business turns.”

“They are key to making sure the business operates the way we have in mind,” Hewlett comments.

Since those employees are supervising the work of others, determining how much responsibility they have and how it is delegated is important, he continued.

“There are some discussions that should be had to help us decide what kinds of things are worth delegating and which may be easier to take care of as the ranch owner,” Hewlett explains.

It is also important to consider, after work is delegated, how to communicate what work should be done.

Supervisory styles

“How that delegation is carried out in terms of supervisor instructions is also important,” Hewlett continues. “There are lots of styles of instruction.”

For example, he explains that authoritarian supervisors operate under a system where workers are told what to do and then receive criticism if the work isn’t carried out as expected by the supervisor.

“The other levels involve more thinking from the workers about how we are going to carry out work as opposed to management describing how they want it to happen,” he says, noting that other styles of management involve employees more directly in making decisions. “We can also give employees ideas about the direction we want to go and the boundaries.”

“One way is not right or wrong,” Hewlett says. “In different circumstances, on different operations, there are some situations that lead to one approach over the other.”


At the same time, Hewlett mentions that leadership styles can also facilitate employee growth and may help reward employees for their success.

“How can we use leadership to bring out the skills of our employees so they can become more autonomous and take over some responsibility from management?” he asked. “Starting off with an authoritative approach and working to more of a coaching situation can help people move forward and build responsibility within the organization.”

Employee evaluation

Evaluating employees based on their supervisory performance, Hewlett continues, is also an important part of management.

“Hiring someone with experience helps with supervisory performance, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mentor people into those roles,” he says. “There are things we can do to coach them into being more effective in team situations.”

Hewlett notes that there are various stages of team performance and formation that can help employees to be effective and efficient.

“We have to have a formalized process for managing and evaluating employees,” Hewlett says. “This is critical to getting our job done. Most ag operators have a sketchy system in place, but there are ways to make it better.”

Hewlett spoke during the 2015 Progressive Rancher Forum, held on Nov. 30 in Casper.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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