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RANCH EMPLOYEES ARE A FORGOTTEN RESOURCE

by: Eric Grant

Several decades ago, Burke Teichert learned a powerful lesson about managing people.

Hired by Harold Schmidt, a California-based veterinarian and self-made millionaire, Teichert was called into his office and asked to carry out a specific assignment.

“Burke, I want you to look into this,” Schmidt said, “and I need it back in three weeks.”

Teichert, who had grown up working on his Wyoming ranch for his micro-managing father, wasn't accustomed to such “management” generalities. He was used to structure, and felt a pinch for more information before he began the task at hand.

Nevertheless, he set out on his assigned project, which he completed ahead of schedule.

“You do good work,” remarked Schmidt, after reviewing his report.

Teichert, sighing relief, thanked his boss, then mustered up a question.

“Harold, it's interesting to me the amount of trust you put into people,” he said. “You give people a job, and you let them do it. You tell them very little about how you want it done or how to go about completing their assignments. Why?”

Schmidt, turning to Teichert, had this simple response: “When I hired you, you didn't lie to me when you interviewed with me, right? Do you think your co-workers lied to me about their qualifications? No. I hired every one of you because you could do something that I needed to have done better than I could do it myself.”

In the decades since, that single conversation – and the lessons he gleaned from it -- have remained with Teichert.

Today, Teichert is general manager of Rex Ranch of Ashby, Neb., where he oversees the daily activities of more than a dozen employees and 11 cow herds at three separate locations. It's a complex, multi-faceted enterprise that calls upon the talents and expertise of many people – and demands top-flight people management from Teichert himself.

His experiences have brought him to believe that employees are a “forgotten resource” for most farms and ranches. While most producers think about land and livestock as their primary concerns, they seldom consider their co-workers as an integral part of their ranch's total vision or long-term success.

“We tend to boss people, and most of us are pretty poor bosses,” Teichert says. “What we really need to do is to couple our management of people with leadership.”

To be successful, Teichert maintains that ranch managers need to look at their land, livestock and people from a holistic, integrative standpoint. And, instead of managing each of these elements separately, he says managers need to see the interconnections of each, recognizing that they are all dependent on the other.

Key to successful ranch management, he maintains, is developing a vision for the ranch that involves all of the ranch's resources and includes “ownership” from everyone involved in the operation, from the owner to the part-time employees.

“People need to be regarded as a resource, not as a tool. “People are not expendable; they are a resource,” Teichert adds. “They need to be treated well and mentored. Their development needs to be provided for, empowered, encouraged and engaged. If they're just there for a paycheck, you're in trouble because you need their hearts and minds, too. Bosses who are authoritarians think they have all the answers. Nobody has all the answers. As a leader, you want to encourage the flow of ideas. And accomplishing a shared vision takes meeting after meeting after meeting. It requires that you talk and talk and talk with your employees.”

“For any of this to occur, people need to be engaged,” he adds. “As a manager, you won't be successful until people engage, and they need to engage in a process.”

Teichert says it's the manager's primary task to create an environment in which people want to succeed. And managers need to provide the tools, training and freedom for their workers to be successful.

“How many people want to fail? How many people want to succeed?” asks Teichert. “I've never known anyone who wanted to fail. So if people want to succeed, I shouldn't want to make them a robotic extension of me. I should help them to succeed. And if they're successful, I'll be successful.”

Teichert says effective people management hinges on the execution of eight key steps:

• Hire the right people – and create an environment where they can succeed. “Once you get them on the bus, you need to make sure they're in the right seat,” he says. “If you ask them to do something that they're not qualified to do, then you are setting that person up to fail.”

• Align people, land and livestock. “At our place, every full-time employee has his own herd to manage, which he calls his own,” Teichert. “When an employee starts referring to these cows as ‘his cows,' I get excited because I know he's taking ownership. And in a very real sense, they are his cows. His living comes from those cows.”

• Provide information feedback to your employees. “Field data from each cow herd manager is submitted to us every month,” Teichert. “We share this information with everyone on the ranch. They can compare their results against those of others. And it's amazing how many breakthroughs you can have when that kind of communication happens.”

• Empower your people. “We require three things of our employees when handling cattle – that they graze their pastures right; that they cull the right cows; and that they handle cattle properly,” Teichert says. “But we also enable empowerment. I allow it. I encourage and reward it. When people become empowered, they have more success, more self confidence, they're not afraid when they get the monthly reports, not afraid to ask how they accomplished that.”

• Lead by example, but through authority. “There are very few good bosses,” says Teichert. “There just aren't good people who know how to give orders and do it well over a sustained period of time. Most get along okay being boss on temporary basis. But it takes a sustained effort, and a long-term vision – that everyone in your business is part of – in order for you to be successful.

“Often, when you give someone authority, it's not long before they use it in a way that's uncaring and unkind,” Teichert. “Authority tends to make us bigger than we are. You need to treat people with kindness and respect and it makes a huge difference. Influence cannot be maintained by virtue of position. It has to be earned with gentle persuasion, kindness and a good knowledge of what you're about and what you're trying to accomplish.”

• Don't get caught up in your own image or status. “If you are, you probably will not become a leader,” says Teichert. “If you're in it just for you, for your salary or for the way people look at you, you're in trouble. People have to understand that you're in it for them, that you want them to do well and succeed, too.”

• Communicate, communicate, communicate. “People don't like to read very much. Your employees will read, but they won't read something over and over,” says Teichert. “Instead, they need to hear something between four and eight times before it sinks in. It's your job to communicate well with your employees, and to do so repetitively. Repetition isn't a bad thing.”

Dr. Burke Teichert is general manager of the Rex Ranch in Ashby, Neb., a cow/calf and yearling operation with ranches in three separate locations. Teichert recently spoke at the Robert E. Taylor Beef Symposium at Colorado State University.

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