Unless you've hired Amazing Kreskin prodigies, don't assume that your employees can read your mind or remember everything you've told them. Put your expectations in writing.

That's the advice of Lee Lancaster, a Dodge City, KS, custom harvester and agribusiness instructor at Dodge City Community College.

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of harvesters just tell their employees what to expect and how to operate the equipment, and then go down the road and hope that they learn it,” says Lancaster.

That approach may have been okay several years ago, but today's equipment is expensive, and a mistake can be very costly, he says.

Once you've got your expectations in writing, discuss them with your hired help during an orientation session at the beginning of each harvest season, Lancaster advises. You should also encourage your employees to review the expectations occasionally to refresh their memories.

Written expectations can also help your crew have a safe harvest.

“It's up to the employer to put a high priority on safety. I tell my employees that we have to hustle and do the job as efficiently and effectively as we can. But we can't hurry to the point that we're putting ourselves in danger or doing sloppy work.”

While Lancaster has his own set of expectations, he often uses an orientation and information packet prepared by Logan Harvesting, Eskridge, KS, as a good example.

“The handout is an excellent one that all harvesters can learn from to develop their own specific guidelines,” says Lancaster.

Copies are available from U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc., Tulia, TX. Contact Ellouise House at 806-995-3087 or uschi@arn.net.

While the guidelines are several pages long, most of the information is broken down into several categories: Salary, Safety, General Information, Moving From One Job To Another, Driving And Radio Use, Service Expectations and Other.

A sampling of the guidelines:

  • No drinking on the job.

  • Do not use obscene language.

  • Check oil, water and tire pressure at least once daily on all trucks.

  • Put tools back where you got them.

  • Be honest with your employer.

Lancaster also keeps track of his employees' varied skills and evaluates them monthly.

“I try to praise my employees for the good things they do — a little positive reinforcement goes a long way,” he says.

The first step toward hiring good workers is to evaluate job candidates fairly and accurately, according to Lancaster. “Before the interview process, you should set up criteria for evaluating potential employees and put them on paper. Then your candidates are coming into the interview on a level playing field.”

Among the criteria Lancaster uses for evaluation are: timeliness, communications skills, appearance, attitude, work ethic and character.

“While some of those factors are often difficult to evaluate during an interview, I use them when I check references, too,” he says.