As with most hog operations, our biggest concern at Goldsboro Hog Farms is people,” says Bryan Hooten. “Our top priority is having a competent, dependable team to operate our 72,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation.”

Hooten heads up the company’s sow and pig production. But he’s also in charge of personnel activities elsewhere in the business, including transportation, maintenance and other areas.

In 1989, he joined Goldsboro Milling’s first sow farm, learning about pork production—and employee management— from the ground up. Having recently graduated from college at the time, Hooten admits, “I wasn’t too modest. But my first day on the job, I saw many potential challenges, and that took the cockiness out of me. Bob Ivey, who hired me, said he’d teach me what to do. I was fortunate to have such an experienced mentor.”

Fourteen years later at Goldsboro Hog Farms, Hooten leads a team of 425 people who operate 46 company-owned sow farms. There are another eight service people who work with 141 contract nurseries and 19 people who work with contract finishers. They market more than 1.5 million head annually. Ten managers report directly to Hooten.

Speaking from experience, Hooten offers some observations and advice on how to become an effective manager.

“Before promoting anyone,” he says, “the person must show the desire and ability to learn. It’s also vital that he or she knows how each team member’s role fits with others’ roles for overall success.”

Familiarity with all aspects of the operation helps the manager teach a new employee the following:

  • What’s involved in running his or her part of the operation;
  • What tasks must be completed, and when;
  • How to cope with unforeseen problems.

“There’s no substitute for hands-on experience,” he contends.

Using authority and power properly is the foundation of Hooten’s management philosophy. “A manager should help each person be the best he or she can be.” It’s equally important to let each person know from the start that he or she is important to the business and that other team members care, he says.

On a new employee’s first day on the job, take time to introduce him or her to all of the other people within the operation. “Emphasize that the new person is becoming part of the team,” he says. 

Always provide encouragement. “When an employee does an especially good job or makes a helpful suggestion to improve the team’s overall performance, give public recognition. On the other hand, never criticize a worker within earshot of anyone else,” he says.

As for training, Hooten says: “Don’t be afraid to teach anyone all that you know about any aspect of pork production, and do it without bragging.” If you do your job well, you won’t be threatened by anyone who learns from you.

“Be reasonable, but strive to maintain adherence to your production program,” he notes. “It’s natural for a person to do a job the easiest way, which doesn’t always produce the best results. Explain why each task should be performed according to your program.”

Attention to detail is high on Hooten’s list, especially for a supervisor or manager. Make sure that each team member knows and conscientiously performs his or her responsibilities.

“To build team spirit, emphasize to each employee that he or she can be proud to be a part of the team that makes the operation run,” he says. When talking with a team member, drop “I” from your vocabulary. Promote inclusiveness and team spirit by using “we,” “us” and “our.”

Concern about each person within the operation is important. Make it clear that you listen to personal and work-related problems—up to a point. “But, I have learned that it doesn’t pay to encourage a chronic griper, who complains regardless of how things are going. That person can infect other team members and destroy team spirit.”

Don’t let problems linger. “If an employee fails to become a conscientious, willing team member and isn’t carrying his or her load, it’s time to take action,” Hooten says. But be sure to spell out your concerns to the worker and document your actions on paper, allowing some time for correction.

He’s learned the hard way that it’s not wise to put off firing an employee that falls short in any of these ways:

  • Makes little effort to learn.
  • Does not carry a fair share of the work load.
  • Consistently has a bad attitude.
  • Cannot get along with other team members.
  • Does not enhance team spirit.

Turnover costs the operation in terms of time and money invested in recruiting and training. “We’ve learned that before terminating an employee, it pays to review his or her job performance. Close scrutiny sometimes points out a weakness in our program or job responsibilities. Correcting one or both may solve the problem and erase doubts about the employee.” Such action has prevented mistakes that would have been costly to the company and put a black mark on the person’s job history.

Learning never stops. “We live in an ever-changing world and pork production is no exception. It’s important to keep an open mind and stay abreast of new developments,” he says.

“A know-it-all attitude has no place in building a team. While each member may have a different role, it takes a team of people who all have equal value to keep the operation running smoothly.”