Last updated March 31, 2021
As the saying goes, “Good help is hard to find.” But in addition to recruiting qualified employees, precision farming dealers also struggle with retaining it.
The average employment lifecycle for a precision specialist is often only about 18 months — sometimes less. Dealers have to balance their ability to invest time and resources into developing talent, with meeting the day-to-day demands of the job.
Says one equipment dealer, “In my 50-plus years in the agricultural and construction equipment business hiring and keeping good employees has always been difficult. The difference I see with precision farming employees is that most of them have skills that can easily transfer to other tech areas that may offer more regular hours and more comfortable work environment.
“That’s why there is truth to the saying ‘Make your dealership the place most people find desirable to work and you can keep help.’”
More than 70% of respondents to Precision Farming Dealer’s most recent benchmark study said employee training is their most important area of investment in their precision business.
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With only so much time in a day, knowing the most efficient ways to weather the storms of staff shortages, complicated customer requests and employee discontents is crucial. Precision Farming Dealer has collaborated with top precision managers across North America to provide a quick-hitting list of tips for maintaining day-to-day efficiency and morale among employees. Download now »
So what are the most effective methods for maintaining productive, profitable employees? Our editors compiled experience-based advice from North American dealers of all sizes and brands on how to develop a stable, successful and loyal precision farming staff.
1 You need to have somebody that’s lived and breathed the industry, in my opinion. Employees must have a passion for precision farming. It’s a high-stress environment in spring and those without the passion have no desire to deal with high level of stress. Don’t be afraid to do a character assessment before making a hire. Are they going to step up when stuff really hits the fan or are they just going to fold and turn their phone off?
“Don’t be afraid to do a character assessment before making a hire. Are they going to step up or fold and turn their phone off?…”
2 Make sure to hire employees who can be independent, self-sufficient and are competent. With technology changing so fast, management has to rely on the precision farming employee to follow through on their responsibilities because it’s difficult to constantly monitor what they are doing.
3 Reward your employees. This one is two-fold. Compliment them for quality work, and reward them financially, either directly or indirectly. Bonuses are nice, but taking the team out for an event like go carting or an escape room is really appreciated as well.
4 There is a lot of manufacturer training available, but most of the time it’s just a baseline for experience. We have been focusing our efforts on internal training that we try to get completed during the winter months when there is time. This training serves 2 purposes. One, it helps everyone get a good understanding of our products and the new stuff that is always coming out. Two, it builds a team that learns the abilities of each member so we can rely on other people within the organization.
5 A successful internship program can be extremely beneficial. Keep those relationships with the big ag colleges in your area. We actually have one of our employees who graduated from Purdue who has been asked to come back and speak to some of their agronomy and agricultural systems management (ASM) students. It was a great relationship-building opportunity that will secure us a very good pipeline of talent to come.
6 A task we give our precision specialists is to put on training sessions at their individual stores. This really helps everyone get better because, as we all know, when you are working to prepare a presentation or training, you learn more than what you teach. Putting them out there really makes them get out of their comfort zone and helps them learn.
7 When I first started working for a farm equipment dealer, I knew very little about the business. The dealer provided me with several mentors who worked in different areas of the business. They were talented people willing to share their knowledge with me. Be willing to provide this type of dynamic to new employees and especially younger ones.
8 From an income standpoint, you need to account for your investment of time vs. what you will get in return in the short- and long-term. We give our specialists a base salary with a lot of commission — the more they sell, the more they make. So, how hungry are they to go make more money? That has helped us with retention and not lose them to competitors offering another $2,000 a year.
9 Have new precision specialists ride along with experienced members of the team. This gives them real world experience and we are able to help them succeed by giving them examples. We also have new specialists ride along with the sales teams at their stores. When they spend time with their sales team, they learn a lot more about the sales process and developing relationships than just sitting in a weekly meeting.
10 There are opportunities to attend presentations by the vendors that supply an OEM with certain products. Often, more is learned from the actual vendor than the OEM. During breaks and evenings during training sessions, technicians often have a chance to meet and talk with other technicians about issues they are dealing with not related to the product the class covers. I encourage them to do so. Often more is learned in these informal talks than from the class.
11 Diversify responsibilities and give new hires a taste of different departments — sales, service and maybe even parts. But wrap this around their education and development as a precision specialist. If they understand what everyone else at the dealership does, and others know what they do, that will avoid confusion and help everyone know where they should go for not just answers, but the right answers.
“Understand that the first year, you’ll lose a lot of money on new employees. The second year, you’ll break even. The third year is when it starts to make sense…”
12 Continuously remind the rest of the organization how valuable the precision farming employees are and encourage other departments to understand what they do. The precision department does a lot of things no one ever hears about and they often go unnoticed, which can directly or indirectly impact morale and whether a specialist stays or goes after spring or fall.
13 Be sure to give them tools to get out of a jam when needed. We use Slack, a real-time messaging app, and we are able to send a message to everyone on the team if we run into a problem. Everyone sees the issue and if they know the answer they can send the answer back. That helps everyone feel more comfortable to share their issues because they see all the questions that are asked by everyone, including the leaders in the group.
14 When your precision personnel return from a training, take time to talk with them about the experience. Take and keep notes about what the techs say about the training. The quality of training varies greatly between OEMs and instructors. If the organization presenting the class will not provide information about the class, the instructor and his background, it is likely wise to decline to spend your training dollars on that class.
15 One tactic that has worked for us is we’re pretty open with our books. If our specialists see a lot of money coming in they might think, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Why don’t you give me some of that?’ So I show them and I break it down for the whole company — here is our P&L. I break it down per-employee, so that way I say, ‘Your first year, we lost this much.’ They are more apt to stick around to help pay back some of that investment we’ve made in them.
16 In the company store operation where I worked, everyone was on the OEM’s payroll and benefit package. The company offered continuing education benefits that actually paid for me to earn my degree. All the special tools and equipment needed were provided. Quality training was provided and attendance was mandatory. The facilities were modern, well lighted and clean. There was not an independent dealer in the area with as much to offer. Keep the total package of knowledge you can offer in mind when making a hire and how you plan to keep that person.
How dealers view future revenue opportunities is evolving, but their top priority for where they plan to invest in precision growth remains the same — employees.
But staff recruitment, development and retention are also among the greatest challenges, with precision specialists averaging less than 2 years of employment at a dealership.
During a dealer-to-dealer panel discussion at the 2019 Summit on Jan. 7-8, hear 3 precision farming managers share their proven methods and cautionary advice for creating a stable precision team, to include incentives for retention, how to mentor new employees and creating a culture of advancement.
Speakers for this panel include:
Joe Sinkula, Integrated Solutions manager, Riesterer & Schnell in Pulaski, Wis. Putting employees in the right roles can go a long way toward retaining them. For Sinkula, who manages the 5-person integrated solutions team across 12 ag locations, this includes prioritizing responsibilities and specialization to emphasize employee strengths and minimize turnover.
This approach has helped the dealership grow its total precision revenue by 300% during the last 3 years, and Sinkula says, “It’s about allowing our specialists to do what they do best, whether it’s sales, service or data management. Turnover is a part of this business, but we need to have reliable, responsive coverage for our customers.”
Sinkula details ways the dealership has navigated transition within its precision department, including the creation of a precision farming coordinator position to be the organizational point person and reduce the risk of burnout.
Arik Witker, precision farming manager, Redline Equipment in Gas City, Ind.
Leadership is a managerial quality that employees respond to and often crave. Having spent the last 17 years in the National Guard, including 14 leading anywhere from 2 to 80 soldiers, Witker has a refined sense of what it takes to encourage the best performance out of someone — and under pressure. Applying standards of accountability, and incentivizing success have been successful approaches Witker has adapted to the 5-person precision team across Redline Equipment’s 11 ag stores in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.
“The business we’re in is relationship-driven and quite often, precision staffs are often very young,” he says. “It’s about creating a culture of success, providing those ‘feel good wins’ and a pathway to success. That’s how you retain employees today.”
Witker shares his strategy for establishing a roadmap of advancement, by setting realistic — yet challenging — expectations for precision employees, along with proven ways to keep young specialists engaged and invested in the success of the business.
Seth Conway, precision product manager, Monroe Tractor in Henrietta, N.Y. Training is an essential part of the progression of precision farming specialists, but it’s only part of the equation capturing the full potential and productivity of employees.
Professional development — on a macro and micro scale — within a dealership through simple steps can go a long way toward retention. Leading a team of 6 precision specialists at 7 ag locations, Conway is responsible for advancing precision employees through a company-created developmental plan, from on-boarding, to compensation to putting future goals down on paper.
“One of the philosophies of our employee development plan is to explain to new hires how the job they have can lead to the next position in the company and then another one after that,” Conway says. “Specialists respond to that approach, especially if they understand they can grow with the company.”
Conway shares the dealership’s approach for sustaining its 15% average annual precision revenue growth by creating a pipeline of talent, putting employees on a progressive path and with why it’s worth waiting at least a year to put “hard money” into a new precision hire.
For more information and to register for the Summit visit www.PrecisionSummit.com.
17 We do a ton of employee development and not just on technology and sales. We have our team read, usually 2 books per year a group (often Patrick Lencioni books). We read them together and have little book clubs. It keeps our employees engaged and invested in more than just their job, but on the business as a whole.
18 Any dealer thinking of sending personnel to service training to find out all they can about the training before committing to send people to it. You need to know what is supposed to be covered and who will be making the presentation. You need to know the schedule for the classes, the location of available lodging and restaurants. You will need to be sure of any local transportation you need to supply at the training location.
19 We hired 3 new employees right out of college and we’re asking ourselves — how are we going to keep them for 2,3 or 5 years? You need to understand that the first year, you’ll lose a lot of money on them. The second year, you’ll break even. The third year is when it starts to make sense. We’re trying to figure out how we get them to 5 or 6 years and a lot of it is a ton of training. We have to spend a ton of time with them. We’re working through that right now.
20 Employees have to be willing to learn and willing to be coachable. We do a lot of things, even on the hiring side, that weed out some people that we know won’t be good fits. I try to find certain personalities, but it’s not always easy. As we’ve grown, we’ve found two or three people who had already been working somewhere else that had some bad experiences so when they came into our environment, and I think they’ll stay for a long time. It’s the newer, sometimes younger employees who have never worked anywhere else, that don’t know how bad or rough it could be or how good they got it. Those are the ones we’re worried about.