Managing in turbulent times

March 19, 2009 07:00 PM
            Providing leadership in tough economic times is your most important role as a dairy manager, says Bob Milligan, a specialist in labor management with Dairy Strategies, Inc.
            First and foremost, you must be upbeat. "This is one of your most of awesome and difficult responsibilities. When times are bad, you have to be the cheerleader for your team,” he says. "This often has to be countercyclical to your own true emotions.”
            In difficult times, you have to provide the hope and encouragement to keep your managers and employees performing at their best. The last thing you want is have your people become so discouraged they quit and look for other employment.
            In tough times, you need your best people offering their best efforts. In doing so, they might come up with options and solutions that you haven't thought of. So you need to be open to and encouraging of ideas on how to solve problems.
            You also have to be realistic, but in doing so, remind everyone of your business' values, vision and mission for the farm. Continually reinforce the thought that you have confidence in the team and that together, you'll work through difficult challenges.
            Your other key leadership responsibility is to focus on business strategy and strategic implementation of new plans. For example, to reduce labor you might decide to contract out heifer raising. Or, you might eliminate feeding out dairy steers to conserve feed for your females.
            "When times get difficult, it is more natural for people to detach from making strategic business decisions,” Milligan says. But you also must control your emotions, and make those strategic decisions based on sound reasoning rather than anger.
            To ensure your decisions are on firm footing, seek the advice and counsel of others. Perhaps it's a trusted neighbor, your lender, an accountant or other farm advisor who is familiar with your operation.
            Separate from this, you also need a confidant, someone you can share your true emotions with, says Milligan. If you're young, maybe it's a mentor-type relationship. If you're a more experienced manager, it might be another local business manager.
            "One dairy producer told me he would get together with the manager of the local fast food burger joint,” he says. "He didn't want to talk about cows and the producer didn't want to talk about hamburgers. But they shared similar challenges with managing a mid-sized business with a lot of inexperienced employees.
            "Having a confidant allows you to try out new ideas,” he says. "But don't let it become a pity party or a complaint session. If it does, just walk away because you don't need to reinforce negative emotions.”
            For more information on managing in turbulent times, contact Milligan at

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