The “new norm” in the feed and grain industry is for managers to have multiple locations. Fifty years ago, it was not uncommon for each country elevator to be a separate business with a manager, grain buyer, accounting staff, warehousemen, etc. But just as the farmers being served have consolidated, so have the elevators and feed mills. Through mergers and acquisitions, many managers now oversee the daily operations of multiple locations at once. This has made businesses more efficient and (hopefully) more profitable, but along with these changes come a number of additional challenges. Our column will provide you with some thoughts on how to overcome these challenges.
When managing multiple locations, it is important to develop and maintain a team culture. You don’t want these locations to suffer from “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” syndrome. Each location will have a culture of its own. As the manager you will need to develop your team.
One way to develop your team is to include off-site employees in activities such as lunches, birthday parties, etc. Make sure they are invited and have the means to get there (time off, etc.). Another good way to pull people together (not just physically, but psychologically, too) is to have meetings at other locations periodically so the world doesn’t revolve around the “main office.” In addition, rotate your staff around to various locations so they get to know the facilities, customers and challenges of each of your branches. This will help in emergencies (so you have more staff trained to run the other locations) as well as change the perspective of the other employees. (This process really is challenging; no wonder there is so much emphasis put on it.)
Make sure you have a specific chain of command with your offsite (and on-site for that matter) employees. You need to know who your main contact is and your other employees need to know who to go to for information. A chain of command (organizational chart) is good for everybody. It reduces ambiguity. An idea here is to maintain a binder with your organizational chart and job descriptions for all of your employees (see below). Having multiple grain elevators or feed mills increases the need for people to understand the hierarchy of your company.
Make sure each employee has a job description that clearly defines not only their role but also whom they report to. We have discussed job descriptions in previous Manager’s Notebook columns — suffice it to say that having job descriptions forces you to think about what your employees do, whom they report to and gives you great information for performing evaluations.
Communication needs to be deliberate and planned since your off-site employees suffer a dramatic decrease in “spontaneous” communication. You don’t pass most of your employees “in the hall on the way to the water cooler,” — or more realistically — as you pass each other going about your work in the mill or elevator — so you can’t say, “Oh, by the way…” You need to specifically seek out communication opportunities with your off-site employees — you need to be proactive! Don’t be hesitant to pick up the phone to check in. It is also easy to set up a simple email distribution list, so that every location can get important notices. Another relatively inexpensive technology to employ is to have a fax machine installed at each of your branches. An additional idea is to have a monthly or weekly email that comes from you as manager. Make sure it has value in it; don’t just send one to be sending it. If people do not find the information in your email valuable, they will not pay attention to these weekly/monthly updates and will then miss when there truly is something important in one of them.