BEYOND THE BOUNDARY- Communication is key in the workplace

“Switch your ears on, Claudia!”, my old boss would yell after a careless mistake in the cattle yards. My early work experience in agriculture was brilliant but tough. I had some hard bosses – old school in their approach to people management. Their attitude was “if you kick a dog hard enough, it will move”.

Consequently, my team followed these bosses out of fear, not out of care, trust, and commitment. I vividly remember, at 18, being yelled at in front of my team of five. It was a harsh dressing-down; something I had previously brushed over. But not that day.

After the dust settled, I requested a private chat with my boss. I asked him why he was being so hard on me. “It’s because I care, and I know you can do better,” he said.

This left me stumped. I explained how being yelled at knocked my confidence. He hadn’t realised how this was affecting my work. It turned out to be a productive talk.

This conversation sparked my interest in the psychology of people at work. I became fascinated with people management, what makes the best leaders, why some teams collaborate well while others don’t, personality traits, and team dynamics. I was hooked.

A decade on, I now run my own people consulting business, working with agricultural businesses across Australia.

I work to empower people to create exceptional employee experiences, so our workplaces are happier, more engaged, and safer. From the cross-section of my work, I see common challenges among businesses.

Attracting the best people who match the skills and attitude required is a widespread challenge. We address this through finding a competitive advantage, looking for unique ways to stand out and attract applicants. It’s a strategic move to mitigate the risk of failing to find quality talent.

Retaining quality people is another significant challenge. This issue stems from various factors, such as the desire for greater compensation, substandard accommodation, poor workplace culture, or the want for career progression. Communication is key, regular check-ins to seek feedback from staff on how to improve the workplace, is essential. Collecting details about why an employee leaves also provides insights.

Many people I work with excel in operations and technical areas. However, in managing and working with people, human skills such as communication, leadership, teamwork, and emotional intelligence need developing. When these are lacking, engagement and retention are low. Prioritising the development of these skills has benefits to workplace culture and team performance.

Agriculture stands at a crossroads where the adoption of advanced human skills and strategic employee engagement practices are not just beneficial, but essential. The future of agriculture depends on our ability to attract, develop, and retain talent that is as diverse and resilient as the sector itself.

  • By Claudia Mitchell, a people consultant and managing director of The Capacity Co, and Future Farmers Network non-executive director.

    Claudia Mitchell runs a people consulting business, working with agricultural businesses across Australia. Claudia is also a FFN Non-Execuitve Director. Picture by Andrea Mitchell