At some point in every expanding dairy’s growth, you will have to formalize how you manage your employees. This will likely include full-blown job descriptions, regular employee meetings and job
For John Pagel of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy LLC, Kewaunee, Wis., the
tipping point came when he upped cow numbers from 1,500 to 3,650 cows in 2009. At 1,500 cows, he was already managing 65 employees. But that number shot up dramatically when the number of cows grew 145%. Currently, he employs 140 employees who milk 5,000 cows, manage 5,200 replacements and farm 8,500 acres.
“At 1,500 cows, we thought we knew what we were doing. But when we more than doubled our herd size in 2009, we found out we didn’t,” he says.
He soon learned there was no way he could manage that many employees by himself. “I now manage eight managers, and they manage 120 people,” he says.
Now, he has a mission statement, organization chart, employee manual, job descriptions, a mentoring program for new employees, formalized job and safety training, and follow-up programs to shortcut seemingly inevitable procedural drift. He has a 6:30 a.m. managers meeting Monday through Thursday each week to discuss what’s happening each day. The managers, in turn, keep their crews in the loop.
“Before, my phone was constantly ringing all day long with things people needed. Now, we discuss things in the morning and plan our days,” he says. For example, northeast Wisconsin had been deluged with rain all spring. These “rain days” have left his cropping crew idle, but it has allowed those employees to help out with facility and equipment maintenance.
On good weather days when corn needs planting or alfalfa needs harvesting, his maintenance crew is shifted over to help with field work. That might have happened before, but with daily meetings and a formal chain of command, the work flows more smoothly.
Pagel’s employee management program is based on the tri-footed C-A-R principle: communication, accountability and respect. “It’s a program designed to let every employee know how we treat one another at the Ponderosa,” he says.
Employees are trained in communications skills: actively listening, how to be assertive (but not combative), leadership and respect.
They are also expected to be accountable. “That means showing up on time every day and being ready to work,” Pagel says. “It doesn’t matter if the Packers beat the on Vikings Sunday; come Monday morning employees need to be ready to work.”
Every employee must be treated with respect and, in turn, treat everyone else with respect. Example: A milker is not only a milker. “At Ponderosa Dairy, a parlor technician is one of the most important jobs on the farm,” Pagel says.
Pagel readily admits that his approach isn’t fool proof, and he still deals with his share of employee issues.
“Taking care of employees is an ongoing process, and it will go on forever,” he says. But he now has a formalized system in place that works reasonably well and keeps chaos to a manageable minimum.