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Managing and training prepares employees, employers for successful working relationship

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Many ranchers try to keep the number of employees on the ranch to a minimum as a result of the difficulty and time investment involved in the training process, but Tracey Erickson of South Dakota State University says sometimes hiring outside employees on the ranch is necessary.

“Mentoring and managing employees ensures husbandry and assures consumers,” Erickson says. “This starts at the beginning, as far as taking a look to make sure we don’t have bad things happen on our ranch.”

Both employees and employers should be comfortable with the practices on the ranch and each other.

Shared values

“First, we have to start with the basics. We have to understand our mission, vision and purpose in what we do,” she explains.

The mission, vision and purpose of an operation are also reflected in employees.

“As we look at our top three values, how do we work to share those values?” Erickson asks. “What common ground do our employees have with consumers? And how can we share that?”
Erickson further encourages producers to hire employees based on shared values.

“If our employees don’t have or share our values, it is difficult to share our purpose and move forward together,” she says.

She encourages producers to list their values, and, as they identify and narrow down the list of employees to hire, Erickson notes that those values should be, compared to the employers top priorities.

“As we hire based on values, I challenge producers to ask if potential employees are also trainable and if they have the right attitude,” Erickson says. “Keep in mind, I hire for attitude and train for aptitude.”


If employees are hired with a good attitude and willingness to work, Erickson says that the most difficult part is yet to come.

“Oftentimes as we start training, most employees make the decision of whether they want to stick with us in the first eight hours,” Erickson says. “First impressions last a lifetime, and they matter from both sides.”

During the training process, Erickson emphasizes that many people who work in the agriculture industry are kinesthetic learners, meaning they learn by doing.

“As we work through the process of training employees, we want to start by showing them and telling them simultaneously,” she explains. “We want them to be able to teach back to us what we just explained.”

Then, if employees do something incorrectly, Erickson explains that it is important to make an immediate correction to get them off on the right foot.

“The other thing about training is that it is ongoing,” she continues. “We aren’t going to show employees how to do everything on the first day. We need to continually train employees as time progresses and we go throughout the growing season.”

Factors to consider

New employees can provide many challenges for employers, but Erickson says that employers must also be cognizant about the ability and education of their employees.

“We need to train our employees based on their education level,” she says. “We may need to utilize pictures to better communicate and show them how to do their jobs, as well.”

Communicating effectively with employees is important to make sure that they understand the training provided.

“Informal and formal farm meetings can be helpful to help us convey concerns and hear from our employees,” Erickson explains.

In communicating, Erickson explained that 90 percent of all communications occurs through body language, and employers must work to be approachable for their employees.

“We want to be approachable,” she says. “If I’m standing with my arms crossed and frowning, an employee may be reluctant to come up and ask a question or get more information.

Erickson continues, “We should also be sure to take the time to hear from our employees. We also need to make sure we listen before we speak.”

By taking time to hear from employees, Erickson says that they begin to feel like they are a part of the operation, instead of simply being a necessary evil.

“Employees are extremely important to our operations, and we have to show them we care,” Erickson says. “We want to make sure that employees get the right messages from the get-go so we see the results we want.”


Training and managing employees also requires leadership, and Erickson says that leadership does not mean micromanagement.

“We have to hold our employees accountable, and we have to empower them to make decisions,” she says. “We must delegate, too.”

While it may be difficult to give up control, good employees need the power to be able to make some of their own decisions and take ownership in tasks, she comments.

“We have to empower our employees to work through the decision making process and work with purpose,” Erickson says. “Engaged employees start with engaged employers.”

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

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