I recently had the honor of moderating a panel of progressive peer group of precision dealers who dissected everything from practical applications of ag drones, to the support each receives from their precision suppliers.

During this 2-day meeting, discussions were often candid and informal, though always purposeful. And one of the most engaging debates centered on employee retention.

Finding and hiring precision specialists is a challenge in itself, but keeping them can be even harder. Whether it’s a reluctance to relocate if needed, or the allure of corporate position with a manufacturer, precision employee turnover is an ongoing concern for dealers.

Several peer group members have multi-year non-compete clauses to try and prevent specialists from leaving for a competitor. But these aren’t necessarily ironclad.

“I just don’t know how much teeth non-compete agreements have,” says one precision ag manager from South Dakota. “It’s probably something specialists think about, but I don’t know how enforceable they are because you can’t deny a person from trying to make a living.”

Further clouding the issue is that specialists aren’t necessarily moving from one dealership to another to do the same job, such as when an employee leaves to go work for a retailer or manufacturer.

These scenarios are less of a concern for employees working with hardware than those providing data management services, says one peer group member. His company recently lost technology specialists to competing Case IH and John Deere dealers.  

“Our contract doesn’t prohibit them from going to work for the dealership down the road, but our concern is when we have proprietary things on the data side,” he says. “We’re specific in saying they can’t take any of the proprietary customer information from our business.”

So how are dealers retaining quality employees with what one peer group member called “precision pre-nups?”

Incentives can go a long way toward keeping specialists happy and productive.

The precision manager in South Dakota offers a profit sharing plan where employees draw an escalating annual payout deposited into their checking account. But it takes 3 years for the deposit to fully vest and if the employee leaves early, the money stays with the company.

This same company also offers an hourly labor bonus to specialists as an incentive to record more billable hours. When a specialist bills out labor hours on a job, he creates the invoice and includes a labor parts number.  

Each specialist has a unique parts number and at the end of each fiscal quarter, they receive a bonus based on the total number of hours billed for the quarter.

It’s a good tactic for getting specialists to remember to record their billable hours and also creates some competition for bonus money. But even more importantly, incentive-based agreements can go a long way in maintaining healthy and lasting marriages between dealerships and their precision employees.