Here’s a plan to help one dairy boost its employee performance. Would it work for your operation?
By Travis Thayer, Diamond V
The primary focus of my role as a Dairy Technical Trainer with Diamond V has been to support Diamond V customers by providing training in Spanish to non-English-speaking Hispanic dairy workers on various protocol driven tasks on the dairy, such as feeding cows and calves, milking procedure, maternity pen and cow management, etc.
Often when I go on to farms, some training has already been provided, and my function is to reinforce protocols that the dairy manager, nutritionist or veterinarian has put into place. The point is, we have lots of tools to train employees in these “tangible” skills, but often what I see dairies struggle with are the “intangible” things, like attitude, motivation, a spirit of teamwork and a desire to constantly improve. How do you get employees to pick up on those types of ideas?
Recently I was on a farm working with an employee, a relief feeder, to review feeding protocols on the dairy. Overall he was doing a good job, but there were a few things the manager wanted him to adjust that would help the dairy a lot. His attitude was cordial and positive, and he seemed to be receptive to my suggestions.
After he left, the herd manager, who had been watching our discussion, shared his thoughts with me. “He is a valuable employee. He has been here quite a few years, so I trust him. He can do a number of tasks on the farm, and gets the job done when I ask him to, but he never looks beyond what I ask him to do or takes initiative to handle jobs that need to get done. The problem is, I know he has the skills to take on more responsibility than he does, but he is just not motivated to step up. I don’t know what I need to do to get him to the next level.”
We discussed overall pay structure of the dairy. The owner values the employees and really tries to make sure they are well taken care of. Raises are “automatic,” with no formal employee performance review process in place. In addition to regular raises, the dairy also gives employees meat from cull cows and a Christmas bonus. The manager commented that employees seem to expect the raise, and that many complained profusely and threatened to quit a couple of years ago when dairy economics did not allow for a raise. I told him that I understand that they want to take good care of their employees, but I wondered whether the employees truly understood this and truly valued the excellent work environment that the dairy provides.
I also asked if employee meetings are held regularly to reinforce the dairy and business culture and touch base with employees. None are being held at present. The manager speaks fluent Spanish and regularly talks to most employees, so they at least have a line of communication. He and the owner had talked about this type of meeting in the past but just never gotten around to it. I also asked how often the owner (who is hands-on in the daily management of the dairy) interacts with employees. The manager said the owner is very friendly and cordial with the employees, and greets them by name when he sees them, but that there is no formal mechanism by which he communicates expectations and gives feedback to employees.
I suggested two ideas:
1) Don’t make raises automatically. Instead, institute a formal employee evaluation process every six to 12 months, and if the employee is not performing to the level that the dairy expects, a full raise is not given. This process would involve clear communication to the employee on what to do to improve for the next review to get a full raise. If the employee is doing a great job, this also gives the manager a chance to recognize the employee for good performance and reward him or her with the full amount of the raise. This gives a message to employees that the dairy expects people to do their best and work to improve, and that they are paying attention to how people are doing their jobs.
2) Hold regular (annual or semi-annual) meetings with employees to “brand” the dairy’s culture, and clearly communicate expectations of employee performance, teamwork and excellence on the farm. Obviously, the dairy has to keep running, so this may have to be done in shifts. I suggested that the owner be heavily involved with the meeting, preferably running it, so that he can directly communicate his message to the employees. I had taken part in such a meeting recently, and it was very powerful to see how much it meant to the employees to interact directly with the owner.
The manager and I are going to speak with the owner and talk about implementing this plan. I hope they do, as they have a very well-run dairy, with great employees, and I think this will help them improve even more.
After obtaining a B.S. in Microbiology and a DVM Degree at UC Davis, Dr. Thayer practiced dairy production medicine in California’s Central Valley. He joined Diamond V in 2011 as Dairy Technical Trainer. Contact him at 510-910-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.