There’s no question that employees influence a business’ outcome, and it’s also true that management needs to set the right direction in order to accomplish the results you want. As this year’s economic pressures mount, keeping employees informed, outlining clear objectives and coaching them through challenges will help everyone meet new demands.

On any given day, it can be a challenge to get workers to actually want to do the tasks that need to be done. Without motivation to embrace the same objectives as you, workers may not fully commit to a task, points out Marvin Marshall, an expert on behavior, learning and motivation.

The tendency is to think that telling a worker simply to do a task is more efficient than explaining why it’s important and what it means to the bigger picture. But managers need to remember that employees are in the trenches everyday and they deserve to know more. Study after study has shown that feeling appreciated, involved and valued makes for satisfied employees. 

When you impose something on someone, it produces short-term results because the person doesn't have any ownership in the effort, Marshall notes. Managers tend to believe that ordering an employee to do a task is a way to remain in control. But the reality is the more you empower others with information, guidance and responsibility, the more effective you both become.

In addition, if people only do things because they are forced to, not because they want to, you haven't really succeeded as a leader. “Truly effective leaders trigger internal motivation,” Marshal says.

He offers three practices to make your management easier and more effective in motivating employees to accomplish mutually beneficial goals.

1.) Positivity: This is easy to spot. If your approach is to blame, complain, criticize, nag or threaten, you are sending negative messages that can defeat your employees before they begin. Positive communications send the message that the other person is capable of handling challenges. Positivity creates hope and prompts feelings of being valued.

So always check yourself and ask: “How can I communicate this message in a positive way?” For example, saying, “Don't forget to check the feed lines again,” is disabling. On the other hand, “Your role in checking the feed lines is critical to keeping the pigs healthy and growing; it is a vital task,” illustrates what you want and is more positive and effective.

2.) Choice: Offering choices is a simple approach that you can use to reduce resistance. By giving workers some control, you will get more cooperation. People do not argue with their own decisions.

Even when there’s no choice whether or not to do something, you can build in some element of choice by giving options on how to do the task.

3.) Reflection: By asking reflective questions, you will typically face less resistance. Reflective questions are non-coercive and often start with “what” or “how.”  Here are some questions that promote reflective thinking: “What approach would best increase efficiency and reduce errors?” “What would you recommend that we do differently next time?”

Focusing still further on asking the right questions, Jorge Estrada, a consultant and leadership coach in agriculture, says when workers approach you with a problem, turn it around. Don’t solve it for them. Getting them involved not only makes them more responsible for the results, it also challenges them and helps them grow.

To help employees find their own solutions, he advises focusing on “powerful questions” — questions that generate curiosity and invite creativity, stimulate reflective conversation, are thought-provoking and challenge underlying assumptions. They tend to remain with participants and even spread throughout the operation.

According to Estrada, powerful questions have three dimensions.

  • Wording: Pay attention to how you start questions and which words you use (how, what, which, what if, who, when, where). For example, “Are sows getting enough feed?” “Can you describe when the sows were most productive and healthy?” “What is it about our management that promotes efficiency and animal health?”

As you move from “yes” and “no” questions to “why” or “what” questions, you stimulate more thinking and creative responses in yourself and your workers. “Be careful with ‘why’ questions because they can evoke a defensive response if not worded correctly,” Estrada cautions.

  • Scope: How broad is your question and does it cover the person’s area of expertise?  Note the impact of scope in the following questions: “How can we best share information as individuals?” “How can we best share information as a team?” “How can we best share information within our business?”

“These questions progressively broaden the domain of inquiry,” he says.

  • Assumptions: Most questions have assumptions built into them. For instance: “What can we learn from what has happened, and what are the possibilities now?”

“The goal is not always to make the question assumption-free, but to use the right assumptions,” Estrada points out.

Here are some questions that help employees focus their attention on a project: “What’s important about this problem and what has been done about it so far?” “What opportunities can you see in this situation?” “What do we still need to learn?”

And, here are some questions that stimulate action: “What would it take to create change on this issue?” “What needs our immediate attention?” “What’s your plan and what support do you need?”

“When you ask the right questions of your employees, it gets them thinking,” Estrada says. “Hopefully, they will reflect on what they have done and what they can do to find further solutions.”

When you regularly use such practices, you will become a more effective manager. You will find that your employees will take more ownership and put more effort into their work. It will help achieve the results you want, and it will positively impact the bottom line.

Follow up on Employee Training

Another important factor in getting the results you want, as well as ensuring employee satisfaction, is to provide training early and often. While training may be a priority when you hire new employees or introduce a new protocol, follow up is equally important.   

Protocol drift often occurs and can create a gap between what managers want employees to do and what employees actually do.

To be sure employees are following training protocols, you need to monitor and compare employee actions periodically. This is where written standard operating procedures can come in handy. What’s more, this process can provide feedback to employees and may generate ideas to revise existing training procedures. 

Sam Leadley, management specialist in Attica, N.Y., developed the following checklist that supervisors can use to monitor how well employees are following a farm’s protocols.

  • Before observing actual employee behavior, go to the work site and determine that it’s possible to perform the task correctly in a real-life setting with the tools and materials available.
  • Observe actual employee actions rather than just talking about how to do the job. This applies to the early training process as well as for employees who’ve been doing the task for a while.
  • Compare the completed work to the training standards or the written protocols.
  • When you observe deviations, review the differences privately; don’t reprimand the employee in front of others.
  • When you find deviations, re-train the employee.
  • Give employees feedback in straightforward, understandable terms throughout the process; communicate with them in a language they understand.
  • Ask for the employee’s reaction to evaluations and use this information to revise protocols when needed.
  • Where outcomes involve teamwork, involve all employees in the evaluation, retraining or protocol revision.