John Haynes: driving growth and nurturing talent

John Haynes: driving growth and nurturing talent

Farm manager and TIAH Board member John Haynes describes how he uses coaching techniques as part of his approach developing a committed, motivated and resilient team.
John Haynes.
John Haynes.
John Haynes
John Haynes.

John is Farm Manager for MJ & SC Collins, a family-owned business on the Essex/Herts border. He previously worked for Farmcare/The Co-operative Farms and Velcourt, predominantly in East Anglia. 

Originally from North Yorkshire, John is educated to degree level with a BSC Honours in Agriculture and Business Management from Writtle College and has continued his development throughout his career with additional qualifications from BASIS Registration, The Institute of Leadership & Management, and Institute of Occupational Safety & Health. 

John has just been appointed as the Chair of TIAH’s new Industry Group, which has been set up to allow ongoing discussion with farmers and growers to help TIAH ensure its services meet their needs. 

A busy team 

I manage a family owned, 3,500 acre arable farm producing milling wheat, sugar beet, beans, and borage. There is a large commercial aspect to the business as well, including residential property, industrial units, and rural offices. It’s a very diverse business, which keeps us extremely busy.  

On the farm, I have an assistant manager and two full-time staff members. Every year, I also take on up to four agriculture students on work experience from Harper Adams University. This meets our need for harvest seasonal workers and provides a great learning opportunity for young people at the start of their careers. 


Coaching is key 

Whether permanent or temporary, I take all my employees’ ongoing training and development very seriously. In addition to the required formal training courses, covering topics such as health and safety and specific technical skills, I provide in-house training too. I regard coaching as an important aspect of staff development. It’s about engaging in a two-way discussion with my team members; understanding their motivations, needs, and aspirations; encouraging them to identify and prioritise their tasks; and supporting them to come up with solutions to the day-to-day job challenges. 

I aim to involve my team as much as possible in business planning and decision making so they have accountability. I try to give them challenges so they are resilient. I also ask my team what interests them and support them in developing their knowledge, such as by attending agronomy discussion groups or visiting different farms to learn about how things are done there.  

I’ve heard the argument that if you spend a lot of time and money on training up your staff, you’ll lose that investment when they move on. Personally, I accept that many people will want to move up and progress in their careers. By working with your staff and understanding their aspirations, I believe you’re maximising the chance that they will stay with you and do their best until that time comes.  


Starting out in farming 

I’ve no doubt that my early experiences of coming into the industry with no background in farming have heavily influenced my inclusive approach to coaching training and developing my team. 

My parents were in the RAF and had no connection to the industry, but I thank my dad for getting me started on my farming journey. Keen to prevent me from lazing around during one summer holiday from school, he encouraged me to take on a job on a local dairy farm. I did everything there, from milking to stacking bales. I loved being outside, the physical work, being with the animals, driving tractors – I was happy to work there during any free time I had. The family who owned the farm loved me too and were very supportive, but unfortunately, a member of the farm team took pleasure in telling me I’d never be a ‘real’ farmer - a negative attitude that I’m sad to say still exists in some areas of the industry where there’s belief that if you don’t have farming in your blood, you can’t do the job. 

That’s nonsense, of course, and I decided there and then that I wasn’t going to let one person’s negativity hold me back. After school, I went on to gain a degree in Agriculture and Business Management at Writtle College – where, I should say, I was nothing but welcomed and encouraged by staff and my fellow students. Armed with my degree, I joined a retailer’s farm management trainee programme, spending five years working on arable farms around East Anglia. I then worked for a couple more arable farms around the Suffolk coast before joining the farm I now manage 11 years ago. I’ve worked hard and in a good job with lots of responsibility, and I believe I'm well respected by the local farming community. 

My experiences during my early years in farming – both the bad and the good – mean that now I’m a manager, I am committed to helping people to develop, whatever their background. In my view, people at the start of their career in agriculture are open to new things and are determined and motivated to learn. Support them from the start, and they can do great things, and it’s incredibly satisfying to start them off on their own journeys. 


Building a resilient team 

A practical example of how coaching and development work on the farm is how, due to recent difficult weather, my team and I have made it through an incredibly challenging spring.s Like many farm businesses, we had to make some hard decisions with the aim of maximising our crop yield in the face of the unpredictable conditions. One issue was pinpointing the right time to sow. It’s important that the ground – called a seedbed – is in optimum condition before we sow, but it’s not always possible to wait until the perfect moment if downpours are heading our way.  

During this time, I involved the whole farm team in the discussion so they could understand that making farming decisions is often not black and white but rather about making compromises – as we had to do to get the crop in. 

Fortunately, we’re through it; the farm’s looking good, the crops have great potential, and we’re on top of our timeline to harvest, which isn’t too far away. But a positive to come out of that challenging period is that involving the team in the discussion and decision making has been a great learning experience that has contributed to their resilience, accountability, and job satisfaction.  


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