Harry Knobbee shares employee management strategies at 2011 Range Beef Cow Symposium
During the 2011 Range Beef Cow Symposium, speakers discussed a wide array of topics from properly giving vaccinations to feeding cattle. However, one of the most important discussions centered around the employees who carry out these day-to-day duties to keep the ranch moving forward.
“One thing it all comes down to is people,” said Harry Knobbe of Knobbe Cattle Company located in West Point, NE. “It takes people to get things done in the ranching business. The ranching business is one area where it is harder to retain employees, but you can do it by creating an interest for them.”
Knobbe explained how important it is to establish a job description and title for new employees. “I have never introduced any of my people as my hired man,” he explained. “I treat people with a good job title, because they are important to me.
“Job descriptions are very important. All I do at my business is commodity work. I don’t sell any fat cattle, buy cattle, meet with insurance people, or do any banking, because I have people hired to handle each of those things,” he continued.
Knobbe also likes to ask his employees how he can help them in the afternoons after the markets close for the day.
“I love to work outside, but I don’t want to interrupt the employees when they are doing well,” he said. “I ask where I’m needed, but I let them do things their way. The job always gets done, even if I don’t always agree with the way they do it.”
It is important to share with the top people what is going on in the operation, Knobbe continued.
“The top five people in our operation know my total finances. They know how much we make each month. We sit down and go over the finances at least quarterly, and evaluate how we are doing at the end of the year,” he said. “My employees want to help take care of the company, so it is important to me that they understand the financial records.”
Employee-employer relationships are also vital in a successful operation, he said.
“I feel it is very important to go to the worker when I need to discuss something with them,” he explained, “rather than making them stop what they are doing to come to me.”
Knobbe shared a story of a man who had left his current employment and applied with him for a position: “This young man was just an outstanding worker, and I was surprised he had quit the job he had. When I asked him why, he explained to me that when he was busy working, his employer would drive up in his pickup, stop about 10 feet away and call him over to talk to him. He then told me he felt his time was just as important as his employer’s, and he was working, when all his employer was doing was driving around in the pickup, so he felt his employer should come to him.”
Regular, weekly meetings with all employees are held at Knobbe Cattle Company.
“Every Monday morning we have a meeting to discuss the general agenda for the week so everyone is on the same page,” he explained.
Rewarding employees is also important. Sometimes recognition may be as little as a pat on the back or a thank you for a job well-done, or as big as an unexpected bonus.
“If my employees punch in every day on time for a month, they get $100 bonus for the month,” Knobbe said. “If they make all 12, they get another $100 bonus on top of that.”
Employees are paid by the hour at Knobbe Cattle Company, but they can earn time-and-a-half after 40 hours. If they average 55 hours a week over a year, they are paid double, he said. They also are paid double if they work any major holiday.
“I don’t want my employees to have to work New Year’s Day,” he said. “I like to hear them tell people they get to work New Year’s Day.”There is a big difference.”
Knobbe also rewards his long-term employees with a double annual paycheck every 10 years.
“They really look forward to that,” he said. “I’ve had some people who have been with me 18 years tell me they want to do something different, but ask if it is okay to stay until they’ve been there 20 years so they can collect their bonus.”
Knobbe said as an employer, he also believes it is important to be a leader.
“I like to support my employees activities. If I take off for my grandchild’s sports, I feel it is just as important for the employees to attend their children’s activities. Sometimes, I let them go, and I stay home,” he explained. “They know I care about them.”
Knobbe said he also likes to send his employees to cattle meetings like the Range Beef Cow Symposium so they can continue to learn, and meet other producers.
“If you treat them well, they will brag on you. It is important to be a leader. I want my employees to have a good life and a healthy living,” he said. “I think there is a future in bringing people back to the operation, but you need to treat them as more than hired help.”
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