Profit in the Details Employee efficiency

September 20, 2009 07:00 PM
Dan Little
*Extended comments highlighted in blue.

Are you frustrated with your employees, or are you proud of the team that you have developed on your dairy?

While under financial pressure, it is often more difficult to take time to cover the basics of management. During these tough times, it may be advisable to take a deep breath and take a look in the mirror to evaluate your labor force.

Why look in the mirror? Because many of our own personal work habits will rub off on the employees who work in our operations.

The following is a quick checklist that needs to be completed on a personal basis before we can expect positive
results from our staff:

Goals. We need to periodically evaluate our progress in regard to our business and personal goals—short-term and long-term. In turn, our employees need to know that we are interested in their goals, too. This is an important discussion to have during any employee evaluation.

Protocols and procedures. Do you have a set of guidelines that you follow? If not, chances are that your employees are not following standardized procedures either.

Discussions that also consider the employee's views and feedback on written protocols and procedures can be extremely informative. Gathering ideas from staff to improve procedures can be a huge step in getting employee buy-in and superior performance.

Job descriptions. Evaluation of labor efficiency is
extremely difficult without written job descriptions to communicate the expectations of management.

Job descriptions should include detailed information about responsibilities, tasks to be completed, time off, continuing education, medical benefits and compliance with the employee handbook. Continual evaluation and retraining is only effective when managers and employees agree on the definition of the job involved.

And job descriptions are not just for your employees: It can be an illuminating exercise to prepare one for yourself.

Continuing education. Regardless of their position, employees (including owners and managers) need to be challenged with new ideas and have their skills reinforced with up-to-date information. This helps to keep everyone focused on the larger, long-term goals of the dairy in the face of current financial adversity.

It's also a good idea to have attendees of classes and meetings report back to other staff members at employee meetings to stimulate the thinking of those that were unable to attend.

Vacation and time off. You may have found that you do not fully appreciate the daily stress level you are operating under until you have experienced two or three days away from the daily challenges of being a manager. The same is true for employees. Taking time off should not be considered a weakness or a privilege, but rather a necessity for the mental and physical health of the operation. I have yet to hear a terminally ill person say they wished they had worked more and took fewer vacations during their lifetime!

While the potential of burnout is always a concern when employees are working long hours, time off is especially critical during periods of stress.

Staff meetings. It is critical to communicate the goals, expectations and progress of the operation to all staff members on a regularly scheduled basis.

Granted, not all employees need to have the same information, but everyone needs the level of information consistent with his or her role. Staff meetings are also excellent opportunities to celebrate the successes in your operation since the last time the staff met. We know that everyone likes to talk about "the dairy down the road,” so it is the responsibility of management to provide a status update for the dairy that you would like to hear at the local coffee shop.

It is rare that employees are more excited about the dairy than the owner/managers. Therefore, take the time to be thankful for the human capital that supports the dairy on a daily basis and thank them for what they do. Employees are probably the most difficult asset on the entire dairy to replace—so make sure they understand you appreciate their efforts!

Bonus content:

Well-written job descriptions imperative

Managing family labor (scroll down)

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