With disappointing market prices, it’s hard to maintain the inspiring role of a coach. But, as difficult as it may seem, it is your responsibility as a manager or owner to help the staff focus on areas they have control over such as production, while you concentrate on areas that you control. No, I’m not suggesting that you have direct control over prices, but you do control your attitude and the business decisions you make to reduce the long-term impact.

There’s nothing to gain by showing your staff your frustration with market conditions. Raising production targets to unachievable levels, adding unnecessary meetings, micro-managing production, cutting salaries, or reducing benefits will stifle morale.  Your production team needs for you to stay positive –  it sets a good example and gives them confidence in your ability.

Get in the game
Sometimes a leader has to act like a leader, even when you aren’t emotionally up to the task. If you can’t muster a positive attitude, stay in the office. You’ll do less damage to team morale when you are alone, behind a closed door. That may sound harsh, but these are harsh times. Also, collect all the outside support you can. 

Pressuring your staff in tough times is like pushing on a sow that doesn’t want to go where you want her to ù she plants her front feet and pushes back. Today, you must lead your staff, not push them. You can do that by encouraging workers when they do things right. Enlist others to do the same. Focus on the positive aspects of what you and your staff get to do every day. 

Find out what motivates each person individually. What do they like best about their job? Once you know that, make sure each one gets to do as much of that as reasonably possible.

Someone on your staff may be naturally positive and simply hasn’t been able to apply that skill in your workplace. Look for the person that everyone seems to like to be around.  Enlist his or her help. Let the individual know that keeping a positive attitude is important to you, and you feel that he or she can impact the rest of the staff. By encouraging this individual, you will empower him or her  to use that skill, and you will endorse the importance of a positive environment.

Building respect and loyalty
Today’s workforce measures its respect for employers in an interesting way. It’s not by your knowledge, your ability to fix things, your production history or your ability to talk another 50 cents out of the packer. Those are  important talents, essential for business survival, but employees expect those qualities.

Workers today measure their respect for and loyalty to you by how much you care about them. How do you show the workforce that you care? For starters, by your presence in and attention to their work area.

Spend time with each employee in his or her work area, on a weekly basis. Then spend 15 minutes or so just chatting ù but not about production. Show a personal interest in the employee. Ask how the employee’s kids are doing in school, how was last night’s soccer game, what does he or she have planned for the next vacation or how is his/her spouse doing at work?

That’s how many of your employees measure your level of caring. It’s your attention to the things that matter most to them personally. Employees spend a lot of time at work concentrating on the things that matter most to you; they want you to return the favor.

If you’re not good at starting those kinds of conversations, just remember FORM: Family, Occupation, Recreation and Miscellaneous.

Start asking about those areas and you’ll soon have more information than you expected.  

For people you have little in common with, remember SOFTEN: Smile, Open posture (don’t stand with your arms crossed), Forward lean (you’ll look more interested), Touch (just a pat on the back), Eye contact and Nod (you’ll naturally pay more attention).

Building respect, loyalty and camaraderie is a two-way street. It’s not all your responsibility, but you are the leader.

How Are Your People Skills?

Here is a simple checklist to keep your people positive during challenging times:

  • Praise publicly and encourage other staff members to do the same. It can be a good way to end a staff meeting.
  • Limit your time around staff if you are in a negative mood.
  • Spend a few minutes of personal time with each of your staff members regularly; especially those you don’t know well or have little in common with.
  • Look for and show genuine appreciation for things done right, especially teamwork.
  • Avoid talking about poor market prices, instead refer to reduced profits.
  • Focus on your staff’s strengths. Accept your workers as they are, including their limitations. 
  • Don’t compare anyone to another employee, past or present.
  • Tell your employee’s family members how important he or she is to your business, and how much you appreciate the person.

Don Tyler runs Profitable Solutions, an employee management service focusing on agriculture. He lives in Clarks Hill, Ind.