Rules of Engagement

September 7, 2011 09:08 PM
Rules of Engagement

Highly motivated employees are made, not born

Employees who are actively engaged and committed to their jobs are highly productive employees, even happy employees. These actively engaged employees:

  • do more than others;
  • are on time, even show up early;
  • stay until the work is finished;
  • show initiative and take ownership of their roles;
  • are trustworthy.

Surveys show, however, that highly engaged employees make up at best a third of any work force. More than half of employees are not engaged and are there primarily to collect a weekly paycheck.
Managing your work force for high levels of engagement is not a take-it-or-leave-it choice, says Charles Contreras, a labor management specialist with PeopleFirst, a new division of Pfizer Animal Health.

Oftentimes, unfocused management can be so demotivating to individuals who start out highly engaged that they’ll quit, or, even worse, stay and perform just well enough not to get fired.

That’s why it’s important to create a work force environ-ment where employees feel that they:

  • are lucky to be employed with your operation;
  • are contributing to a higher purpose and to the overall success of the business;
  • are respected and work well with their supervisors; and
  • have the opportunity to grow and develop.

Getting actively engaged employees begins with recruitment. Identify workers who have the skill set you need: intelligence, drive and a willingness to learn; discipline to follow protocols; the ability to identify problems; the self-confidence to ask for help.

It’s your job to provide an environment where these workers can thrive and grow. Your dairy should be known within your community as a place where employees want to work and where jobs are coveted. Creating such an environment requires three things done consistently well: the "on-boarding" process; supervision; and performance management.

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The on-boarding process begins immediately after recruitment. On the first day of work, employees should be taken through a process that familiarizes them with the dairy and worker safety. Each new employee should be paired with an experienced worker, preferably one who can communicate well and who can break the procedures down.

For example, Contreras says, a new herdsman might know that a cow is off-feed or sick, but not be able to clearly articulate why she is sick. The person paired with this employee should be able to explain what signs to look for that tell the cow is sick.

During the on-boarding process, job performance expectations must be laid down. "A lot of the time, communicating with employees means yelling at them when they’ve not met expectations. But it’s often the first time they learn of the expectation," Contreras says. The time to explain those expectations—showing up for work on time, paying attention to detail, working until the job is completed—is the first days on the job.

"Your words must equal reality," Contreras says. Don’t create expectations that you can’t meet. Don’t promise raises or benefits you’re not willing or able to provide.

The on-boarding orientation and training period typically lasts 90 days. "Expectations have to be repeated often. This is a process that employees have to be reminded of on an ongoing basis," Contreras says.

Supervision of employees is the most critical step toward building employee engagement. "Most employees who quit are leaving their supervisor, not their job," Contreras says. If they don’t like their supervisor, misunderstand (or are never told about) expectations or feel they are being treated unfairly, employees will either quit or quickly become one of the unengaged.

"If the boss makes life miserable, the employee won’t do anything but what is necessary," Contreras says. "Alternatively, if your supervisor respects and looks out for you, and then asks you to stay longer today, you don’t think twice about it. You stay."

It is often the best-performing employees who are promoted to shift leader. Promoting the best workers is not necessarily a bad choice, because they are competent and respected. "Without exposing them to people management techniques, however, it can lead to problems,
inefficiencies and turnover," Contreras says. "Their first instinct is to do the job themselves rather than show their subordinates how to do it."

The ability to communicate is important because all employees must be treated as individuals and in keeping with the specific situation. "Many managers use the same management style every time. Either they’re dictatorial or they’re a good buddy who doesn’t hold people accountable," Contreras says. "To be effective, you have to manage situations and personality types individually. That takes training, a lot of thought and a lot of time."

It’s therefore essential that supervisors receive managerial and personality-type training. A one-day class won’t do it, however. It must be done over several months, practiced and perfected.

The third leg in developing highly engaged employees is a set of key performance indicators that are tied into your operation’s goals. "You need to connect your operation’s goals with the goals you set for your employees—goals they can be measured against," Contreras says.

The number of cows milked per hour is easy to monitor. But it might not be all that critical to your dairy’s financial success. Dry matter intake, milk quality and pregnancy rates might be far more important to the pounds of milk sold each day.

The entire work force must be clued in to these goals. If your feeders don’t have fresh or pushed-up total mixed ration at the bunk after each milking, dry matter intake will suffer. If your barn crew doesn’t keep freestalls dry and well bedded, it might not matter how good your milking crew is because environmental mastitis could flare up. If your heat detection or OvSynch compliance is poor, pregnancy rates won’t meet your goals.

Tie in your dairy’s goals with goals and expectations for each group of employees. Then make sure that those goals are constantly communicated and monitored. "There should be frequent informal and periodic formal communication about performance—both quality and volume," Contreras says.

Meeting the goals should result in praise and rewards; not meeting them might require retraining and disciplined adherence to protocol.

Establish checks and balances to ensure that your goals are being met, Contreras says. The entire process must be sustainable and ongoing.


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