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Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

4 Steps to Lead Your Team to Success

May 25, 2012

How great managers do it during periods of low milk prices.

Soriano photo 1 12By Felix Soriano, MS, PAS, APN Consulting, LLC
I many times preach about the importance of “consistency” when it comes to managing a dairy operation. Furthermore, I preach about this when I work with front-line workers who are involved with the daily “cow work” at the farm. I do this because I believe that consistency is one of the most important traits that a dairy needs to have in order to be profitable and successful. 

However, managers and owners are sometimes the first to become inconsistent with their decisions and make unpredictable changes during unstable economic times. For example, they will typically ask their nutritionist to make changes in the diets without evaluating the impact that those changes will have on their income over feed cost, or bottom-line profitability of their dairy. 
Instead, what great dairy leaders and managers do is stick to their solid plans and goals, even during uncertain times like the ones we are living today. Great managers know and understand that the dairy industry has become very unpredictable, but they still lead in a consistent manner and therefore get more predictable results. This doesn’t mean they may not have to make some adjustments to their plans during low milk prices, but the core mission and vision of their business stays the same.
How do they do it? Among other things, I see great leaders following these four things:
1. They define and focus on their top goals. There are two main issues that I typically find among dairy managers that lack good leadership and focus.  Either: a) They don’t have any defined goals, and, if they do, they are not communicating them properly to the rest of the employees, or b) They have goals but often times get distracted from them.
a. No defined goals: Too many dairies have no goals to speak of.  In some instances, the manager or owner may have a set of goals defined, but when employees are asked about these goals, they don’t know them or can’t remember them. It is very important for any organization to have one, two or three clear, well-defined measurable goals that can be shared with employees. Examples of well-defined and measurable goals can be found at www.apndairy.com. Of course, these goals will vary from dairy to dairy and it’s always recommended to have your key employees, nutritionist, veterinarian, and consultants involved when defining those goals for each area in the dairy.
b. Managers get distracted from the goals: Even if the goals are well defined, often times pressures of the day-to-day activities take over and managers and employees forget about the goals. It’s the leader/manager’s role to regularly emphasize the goals, rethink people’s jobs to help them achieve those goals, and minimize the distractions at work in order to better focus on the goals that need to be achieved.
In summary, the manager’s job starts with identifying the goal(s), communicating those goals, explaining them, and making sure that everyone understands them.  There should only be one, two or three well-defined goals, and you may have different goals for different units within your dairy. For example: One or two main goals for calf feeders, one or two main goals for feeders, one or two main goals for milkers, etc.
2. They make sure everyone knows what role they play and what they need to do to achieve those goals. Many times, dairy managers set up goals but they don’t define and communicate what needs to be done to achieve those goals. Good leaders will give employees all the necessary tools to succeed, including SOPs, job descriptions and any other tools necessary to achieve those goals. Also, great managers will involve team members in defining how those goals will be reached.
3. They keep score. It is essential to track measures that will lead to the achievement of those goals. There are two types of measures to track: lag measures and lead measures.  Lag measures will tell us what happened and are what managers usually look at on a monthly basis to evaluate the dairy overall.  Lead measures, on the other hand, are predictive and can be influenced by people’s daily performance. Managers and employees can look at these measures daily, weekly and/or on a monthly basis. Good managers focus on a few lead measures that the team can control and help employees stay focused on them by monitoring those lead measures consistently. An example of these would be parlor throughput, milk flow and milk per stall per hour. Combined, these are lead measures that will help milkers in each shift stay focused on their task and achieve their parlor performance and efficiency goals expected by the manager.
4. They set up a regular cycle of follow-through. Good leaders and managers conduct regular meetings where both manager and employees are held accountable for achieving results. This is the time to ask and discuss about the goals and to refresh what needs to be done in order to achieve those goals. If these meetings are not done and goals are not discussed on a consistent basis, then employees will quickly forget about them and won’t care. The meetings should be conducted weekly. (For more information about running effective meetings at your dairy go to apndairy.com/Articles). Develop a scoreboard where team members can see where they are at in reference to their goals.  Have employees discuss what changes they need to do or issues that they may have in reference to achieving those goals and plan what to do next.
Following these four steps will help you improve your leadership skills and consistency at your dairy operation. Remember that it is not enough to announce your goals and expect people to be on board. To become a great leader, you must engage your team to figure out the necessary measures to take to achieve those goals. Then relentlessly monitor those measures.
Felix Soriano, president and founder of APN Consulting, has more than 10 years of experience working with dairy producers and developing tools and programs to improve dairy performance and profitability. He has a Master of Science degree from Virginia Tech and received an Agricultural Labor Management Certificate from the University of California. Born and raised in Argentina, Soriano can relate and communicate very well with Hispanic employees to help bridge the communication and cultural gap between workers and managers. While working as a manager for a feed additive company, Soriano developed his leadership and supervisory skills. Now based in Pennsylvania, Soriano can be reached at 215-738-9130 or felix@apndairy.com. Visit his website at www.apndairy.com.
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