Here are eight tips from producers across the country to help you keep employees motivated and productive.
1. Communicate the mission. “Every time we have a team meeting, we review our mission statement,” says Wisconsin dairy producer Gordon Speirs.
In particular, Speirs focuses on the part that says, “Every animal shall have the opportunity to express its genetic potential for production, reproduction and longevity.”
“I make it known that all employees work for the cows and the cows work for us,” Speirs says. “Most of our protocols are developed with the cows’ best interest in mind.”
2. Establish ground rules. Provide employees with clear and firm expectations. Establish well-written standard operating procedures and make sure your employees understand them.
3. Take training seriously. Frequently train or refresh your employees about proper protocols, procedures and safety and workplace issues. This applies even to those workers who’ve been employed for years.
“Help them keep improving their skills,” says Harry DeWitt, a Texas dairy producer with 42 employees. “Most guys want to be good at what they do.”
Off-site training is beneficial too. “Every chance we get, we send our employees to schools or industry or Extension courses, where they are trained in their area of employment,” DeWitt says. “They learn more, and they feel important when they get to go to a class.”
4. Be there. “Working daily with employees shows them you care about their work,” says Steve Nash, who employs 18 people at his California dairy and farm. “They see the boss around and tend to be more focused on getting their work done on time.”
5. Provide a positive, safe and comfortable environment. It works for cows—and for people. “Creating a positive work environment will improve morale on the dairy and boost performance,” says Mireille Chahine, Extension dairy specialist at the University of Idaho.
6. Keep employees in the loop. Your employees want to be part of a winning team, so make them feel like they are, DeWitt advises.
His High Plains Dairy sets goals for milk production, reproduction, minimizing dead on arrivals, calf performance, feed accuracy, milk quality and more. DeWitt holds monthly meetings to discuss results. Numbers displayed in green designate which areas met goals, while yellow numbers show which areas still need work.
“This is a stimulating process for everyone,” DeWitt says. Discussing industry issues can pay off, too. “It helps employees understand the importance of doing their job correctly and in a timely manner,” Nash says.
7. Give and receive feedback. Formal and informal feedback both help the employer-employee relationship. Michael Pedreiro, whose family owns and operates four U.S. dairies, advocates constant communication with employees who report directly to you.
“I call my dairy managers every day to see how their work is going, find out what milk pro-
duction was for that day and what major issues we are dealing with,”
“Also, it’s very important that when I find people doing something well, I congratulate or thank them for a job well done,” he adds. “It’s just as important as pointing out incorrect or inappropriate actions.” DeWitt agrees. “Compliment them for doing a good job,” he says.
Formal evaluations also help. All employees at Pedreiro’s dairies are formally evaluated every six months by their direct supervisors. The dairy created its own standard form, with a performance scorecard on the front. On the back, the supervisor and employee can go into greater detail about the evaluation. The form is then placed in the employee’s file and kept with his or her records.
8. Reward them. Money is a great motivator. Pedreiro offers three monthly production bonuses for all employees, regardless of position, if certain bonus parameters are met:
- A milk quality bonus is given if all four of his freestall dairies show a somatic cell count of less than 200,000 cells/ml and a standard plate count below 10,000 cfu/ml.
- If yearly milk productions goals are met, bonuses are awarded.
- If all dairies are under a 25% cull rate and a 4% death loss for a total herd turnover rate of 29% or less, employees get a bonus.
Each bonus is worth 0.03/cwt. of a dairy’s production for that month. If all three bonuses are awarded to the same dairy, employees could earn up to 0.09/cwt., or roughly $200 per month.