Hiring the Right People and Winning the Talent War: Tips from Donald Cooper


Hiring the Right People and Winning the Talent War: Tips from Donald Cooper

by | Apr 5, 2017 | Farming Business

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.

Follow Elaine on Social for More Helpful Farm Family Advice!


  1. Douglas Taylor

    Whenever I see the come on to a workshop, speech, or managerial training program that emphasizes the main strategy of “hiring the right people” I reflect that such a focus diminishes the field of human resource development and management. I have experience with such admonishing that tends to imply hiring the “right”, meaning perfect people, after which the main operational management challenge is downhill from there. It is my experience that small business operators and that includes farm operators, are not well skilled in the minutia of HRM. Over the years there have been many efforts to produce learning resources, training courses, expert advisors, and substantial books and handbooks dealing with the field of managing people including the latest national council on ag hr. But as time passes, the mostly public initiatives wane and drift into a distant memory. It just isn’t in the cards of agriculturalists to entrench the “labour” component into management beyond compulsory standards of employment. Witness in Alberta, the substantial rural anger and repulsion at including farm staff in the basics of labour standards of workers from occupational health and safety to WCB and conditions of employment. Labour ( those perfect people you are seeking ) are just something like to poor, to have to endure. And when they don’t initiate a proactive knock on your door there is a market for consultants to tell you how to discover and winkle them out. But after you welcomed them in, the hard part of making relationships sustainable, starts.

  2. Elfje Day

    Great article and very well explained. I believe in professionals so this is a very useful article for everyone. Many thanks for your share.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *