We often hear that people make the difference in successful livestock businesses. As an employer, Harry Knobbe takes it to heart. Knobbe and his family run Harry Knobbe Feedyards, plus Knobbe Livestock sales and Knobbe Commodities, based in West Point, Neb. During the 2011 Range Beef Cow Symposium in Mitchell, Neb., Knobbe outlined some of the steps he takes to build morale, loyalty and productivity among his employees.

First, he said, provide employees with accurate job descriptions and position titles, helping them understand and take ownership of their responsibilities. “Successful people have one thing in common,” he said, “an absolute sense of mission.” Lead by example, he added, noting that employees ultimately will do what you do, not what you say. Regular staff meetings keep the whole staff up to date and focused on top-priority tasks. The company provides a hot, home-cooked lunch to employees five days a week, and the lunches serve as another time for communication between managers and staff.

Knobbe also offers incentives for good work, ranging from a simple pat on the back to substantial bonuses. Feedyard employees are paid on an hourly basis, he said, and those who clock in on time every day for a month receive a $100 bonus. If they complete a full year of on-time arrival, they receive another $100. The feedyard also offers cash bonuses for keeping cattle sickness and death loss below specified levels. For every 10 years of continuous employment, staff members receive a bonus equivalent to their full year’s pay.

Knobbe works to support employees’ families by mailing bonus checks to their homes rather than handing them out at the office. That way, the employee’s spouse is aware of the extra income. He also encourages employees to support their families and community by allowing flexible time off to attend school or church functions, sporting events and other family or community activities. He also encourages professional development and periodically sends employees to cattle-industry meetings for education and in recognition of their importance to the business. Employees earn time-and-a-half pay for time over 40 hours in a week and double time for hours over 50, or for working on holidays. Knobbe said he and his sons schedule themselves to fill in on holidays to allow employees time with their families, but some employees usually volunteer to work for the extra pay.

Knobbe believes these efforts have contributed significantly to the company’s long-term growth and success. The Knobbe feedyard currently employs 12 full-time staff members and four part-time workers. And in evidence of the effectiveness of efforts to build employee loyalty, five staff members have worked for the company for 32 years or more.