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Labor Matters

RSS By: Dairy Today: Labor Matters, Dairy Today

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

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Jan 23, 2012

In a polarized world, much might be different if we only understood each other better.

Duvall, Shaun pro photo 1 11   CopyBy Shaun Duvall, Puentes/Bridges
Walk a mile in my shoes. How many times have you heard that saying? Well, what would happen if you implemented this idea on your farm this year for a day?
It is very easy for people to complain about someone else. We all have done it, and will probably always do it. It is much rarer to see through someone else’s eyes and understand, through their perspective, any issue. If we take this to the workplace, we can almost always hear employees complaining about how the boss has it so easy. We can also hear the boss complaining about how the employees don’t have the same stress as they do.
Each quickly denies the reality of the other’s perspective. “They must be nuts. I have it so much harder.” And the arguments start. We quickly realize that our best efforts at convincing the other don’t work. We can’t make them understand us, and we don’t understand them.
I offer an idea to make the understanding happen. It is a little unconventional, but might work. What if you changed places for a day? Maybe on each employee’s birthday, they could trade places with you. Or, what if they shadowed you for a day, and you them?
Let’s begin by examining what you would learn. I think many dairy farm owners/managers probably grew up on dairies, so they have a good idea of what the dairy cycle is. But do you know what it feels like to stand in a parlor and do nothing but prep cows and connect units for eight hours a day, everyday? Might that become boring? If you are someone who works in the barn, might it also not become boring rounding up the cows and scraping the manure all day? How easy it is to cut corners to make the time go faster? How, if the reasons for the procedures are not explained in a way you can understand, it might seem harmless to change them to make it easier for you?
Likewise, many milkers/scrapers/calf care people might not have a clue about the decisions you must make on a daily basis. Should I buy corn at this price? Should I lock in my milk for the next year? Should I hire this person? What about a cell-count bonus? How much? How should I resolve this difference between x and y employee? Should I get financing from x bank or y lender? Can I pay the bills this month? Which one should I pay?
If you allow the employees to see, live and therefore understand what you encounter on a daily basis, and if you can do the same, I wonder what might happen to your workplace? I have offered a similar experience: that of dairy producers going to Mexico with me to see, live and understand what their employees face before they come to the states to work. Once they go, they understand what the reality is. It makes a huge difference.
In a polarized world, much might be different if we only understood each other better. The road to understanding comes after living the reality of the other. Try it. What do you have to lose?
Puentes/Bridges is a nonprofit organization that, under Shaun Duvall’s direction, promotes cultural understanding, particularly in the dairy industry. Duvall also operates SJD Language & Culture Services, LLC, a translation and interpretation business. For more information, contact Shaun Duvall at or (608) 685-4705.
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