July 1, 2016

Outline Employee Success With Farm Job Descriptions

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Three years ago, Ohio producer Glen Newcomer decided to bring his farm’s human resources to the same level of excellence as the rest of his operation. Developing job descriptions for all of the employees on his 4,000-acre corn and soybean farm—as well as for employees who work for his crop insurance agency and DuPont Pioneer seed business—proved key.

“We want to be as professional as we can be,” Newcomer says. “Job descriptions are part of that puzzle.”

There are two reasons job descriptions are essential for all businesses, according to Kim Seeling Smith, a business coach with Ignite Global, an international training and consulting firm. A well-written job description will attract the kind of talent you want to work for you and not those you don’t, she says. It will also help you define what you’re looking for in a role.

“I think every position can benefit from a job description,” Smith says.

What To Include. Job descriptions also are useful beyond the hiring process.

“They can provide useful criteria for reviewing an employee’s performance,” says Craig Dobbins, a farm management specialist at Purdue University. Smith agrees that while most people think of a job description as a list, the document needs to be much more than that.

“A list of duties and responsibilities is a very limiting concept,” she explains. “It’s no wonder business owners complain employees can’t think outside of the box. We’ve hired and managed them with a very prescribed list of duties and responsibilities.”

Smith says there are three key components of a job description:

  1. Purposes. What is the function of the organization? What is the purpose of an employee’s role within the organization? Employees like to know why their job is important.
  2. Goals. The job description should include no more than five outcomes or achievements, Smith says. What is the end result of the job, and how will it be measured?
  3. Strengths. Shift your focus away from skills and experiences desired for the position and toward the attributes of success, she says. What strengths are required for the employee to be successful in the position?

Other important elements to include in a job description include a job title, chain of command, working conditions, compensation and benefits, Dobbins says. That kind of organization is present in many other industries, Newcomer says, which is why he has made such details a part of his farm’s job descriptions.

Accountability And Advancement. Another goal Newcomer has in mind when crafting job descriptions is greater employee accountability.

That’s why Smith says employers should revisit those descriptions quarterly. “Make sure they are still relevant and applicable,” she explains. “It also provides an opportunity to ensure people in the roles are accomplishing what they should be.”

Documents should be revised regularly, Dobbins agrees, because job descriptions are generally considered legally binding. Avoid any language that might be perceived as discriminatory and thus subject to a lawsuit, he says.

A good job description can not only help employees achieve excellence in their current position but also assist them in moving up the career ladder. Farmers should create aspirational job descriptions for each of their employees, Smith advises. “What achievements and skills do they need to be promoted to the next level?” she asks.

Aspirational job descriptions are particularly useful when dealing when millennials, Smith says. “You help them understand what they need to be able to do to earn a promotion,” she says. “Then you can have a really good conversation about what skills they need to accumulate to be in the next role.”