Hiring the Right People and Winning the Talent War: Tips from Donald CooperMy speaking colleague Donald Cooper recently presented Eight Essential Steps to Attracting, Engaging and Leading a Top-Performing Team at the Farm Tech 2017 conference in Edmonton.  I appreciate Donald who, at age 75, has decades of business and life experience for creating a better culture on our farms.

We hate to lose money as farmers, but do we understand the costs of losing a valuable employee who works well on our farm and is part of the team? Cooper wants us to understand the costs of re-training and the cost of losing a great employee.

Below are many of Donald’s tips, with some edits by me.  These tips will help you to build a stronger farm team that consists of the right people.

It All Begins with Clarity

Clarity is the first step to finding the right people. What is the job description? What is our vision? What do we commit to become? Cooper is big on commitment, which is different than motivation. Commitment means there is action at your business to accomplish what you set out to do, you are not just “trying.”

The mission is the action we commit to each year to move towards our vision, the extraordinary bottom line we commit to generating. How do we commit to behaving along the way? Cooper talked about becoming bitter about your job, and then comes death! He would prefer that we show up on our farms with passion.

“You get to choose your journey, “says Cooper. “Choose passion. Are your lights of joy on?”

No one will love your business more than you do. Farmers need a commitment to act.  Are you keeping your promises for action on your farm?

“When we change our language we change our culture,” exhorts Cooper. “Lean and mean are not helpful words. Let’s be lean and kind! It doesn’t rhyme, get over it.”

What is Our Purpose?

It is vitally important that you know your purpose. To understand this, fill in the blanks on the following statements:

Our customer purpose is to help ____ to____.

Our investor purpose is to generate an ROI of at least _____ %

You can only solve problems that you take ownership of! The best people have to work for somebody, and you have to deserve them. “Whining is not very effective,” says Cooper.

What kind of Ag business would the best people want to work for? Specifically, what must we do to become that kind of business? Good people want the opportunity to grow. The want clear, honest, and consistent communication, a positive, uplifting environment with values they can be proud of, and recognition of work-life balance.

Make jobs more engaging and make people more productive. How can you enrich jobs so that people are not bored? Young people are smarter and better informed. Work-life balance is important to them. They know they have career choices.

Collaboration is the key word for young people. They want to know “why.” They feel entitled. You have to determine the specific skills, qualities, and experience required for the job.

We Become What We Hire

You can’t build an extraordinary business by hiring ordinary people! Do you know who you are looking for?

Talent issues to explore:

  • Knowledge and experience
  • Positive attitude and personality
  • Judgment and maturity
  • Ambition
  • Physical requirement
  • Fit in with our culture, values, and standards.

How are you playing the deck you got? Where do we find the people with the qualities we need? Where have you looked successfully? Other businesses, online? Cooper suggests giving your farm business card to people who serve you well and invite them to take a look at working for your farm. Great businesses are on a mission to make a great difference in the world.

[Tweet “5 tips to help #farmers win the talent war and #hire the right workers for their #farm.”]

Ask better interview questions:

  • What did you like and not like about your previous jobs? Why did you leave?
  • What would you like to get out of this job?
  • What would you like to get out of your career?
  • What would you like to be doing in 3 years?
  • What would make this a great working experience for you? (Write a script to help you out to be a better interviewer.)

Test your candidates and check references! Here’s a creative way to check references by leaving a voicemail: “Would you rehire the person, and if not what would their concerns be? Reference checker says “Only call me back if they were great!”

Create Continous Training and Communication for Your Employees

Create an introduction, training, and ongoing communication with your employees. Teach your history and share your vision. Live by values that people can be proud of. Share your results. Let them know they are part of a winning team. Create a career path for those with the desire and ability. Celebrate and reward success and deal with non-performance. We cannot grow our businesses without growing ourselves.

“Train them so well that they can leave and then treat them so well that they don’t want to leave.” – Sir Richard Branson.

People Cannot Read Your Mind!

Make sure are explaining why you were doing what you are doing. “We do this first for this reason…etc.” Communicate and then involve and explain your why.  You get their ideas and input, and we learn from them by listening, and we honor them. You want people to be more than informed, you want them to be committed.

Create regular idea fests 3 times a year. Do you use great ideas from your team? Challenge them to operate more efficiently and safely. Reward them in different ways for their successes. Do you give opportunities for your team to challenge and empower themselves? Create a sense of urgency. “When can we agree that this will be completed? “ Turn procrastination into insubordination. Create a culture of accountability.

Every person on your team is part of your value or part of your problem! Are people able to be rescued or not?

Create a Culture of Celebration

Acknowledge, reward, and celebrate success. Donald Cooper believes that we have 4 currencies in our lives:
money, time, feeling safe and feeling special.

1501 Ways to Reward your Employees by Bob Nelson is recommended as a good read.

Give a thank you every day to your employees, believing that you make a difference.

For more great tips on hiring and building a better farm team, visit Donald’s website and download many useful templates here.

Fixing Your Time Stress Mess

60 minutes

Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.


Rave reviews

“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
“Elaine helped me allocate $1 Million of assets the night I listened to her. Elaine’s presentation brings value to the use of my services in my office.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
“I recently joined in and listened to your Healthy Farmer Agriwebinar for FMC. I truly enjoyed hearing your perspective and even went and grabbed my Mom, away from her work, to come and listen in on some of your main points as well! One area that really stood out for me, both personally with our own succession plans and with our clients, was your discussion involving "Instant Influence" and how ready are you to change? I loved this concept!”
Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
“Helped me develop my framework to start having constructive and meaningful conversations around the farm.”
Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
“Some great lessons, Elaine! You continue to do some remarkable and potentially life-changing work.”
James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
“Elaine gives me excellent tools that help me work with my clients!”
Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

Book Elaine
for your next event

Contact Elaine to start the conversation.

+1-204-534-7466 | elaine(at)

Contact Elaine