The Team Approach Think like a coach to manage your employees

September 17, 2009 07:00 PM

Uniforms and an employee handbook help promote teamwork at the Fresno, Calif., dairy of Brian Pacheco (center), here with longtime employees Abelino Rodriguez (left) and Urbano Mendoza.
At a recent employee meeting at his Fresno, Calif., dairy, Brian Pacheco appealed to his crew with a request that's intensified as 2009 trudges through one red-ink month after another.

"We have to find ways to reduce costs, because the milk checks are not paying the bills,” Pacheco told his 20 full-time employees. "We can't waste anything. We have to get maximum life out of our tools and equipment. We can't afford new purchases.”

The employees of Pacheco Dairy have been listening, and not only because they've been lucky enough to avoid pay cuts and layoffs this year.

Years of teamwork, cross-training, clear expectations and cultivation of trust have created a stable work force that understands what's at stake. Employee turnover is "almost nonexistent” on the dairy, Pacheco says. It's been almost three years since he and his father, Jerry, have had to hire a new employee.

Despite the worst financial downturn that Pacheco, 41, has ever experienced, his 1,200 milking cows are sleek and healthy, his dairy orderly and well-maintained. This year, as it has for the past decade, Pacheco Dairy earned a high spot on the Top 10 list for Fresno County milk production. The dairy's rolling herd average is 27,417 lb. on 2X milking.

"People ask how we're so successful getting milk out of cows,” says Pacheco, who's on the board of marketing co-op California Dairies, Inc. "It's not one individual thing, no magic bullet, just all the little things combined. When you focus on that, it all comes together.”

As dairies continue to grow larger and more complex, producers like Pacheco have come to rely on well-trained employees to handle many of the day-to-day tasks of their operations. In fact, today's producers may spend as much time managing people as they do cows.

Sometimes that means thinking like coaching great Vince Lombardi, who said, "The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”

It's a philosophy that works at Pacheco Dairy. "We stress the team concept,” says Pacheco, who's on a first-name basis with his workers. "Each employee has a different position, but we're on the same team with the same common goals.”

Although he insists there is still room for improvement, Pacheco shares some of his successful practices:

Emphasis on cow comfort. "From day one, everything we do here is for the benefit of the cows,” Pacheco says. "The cows pay the bills. Our goal is 100% cow comfort.” Anyone caught mistreating a cow is fired on the spot, he adds.

Uniforms. Pacheco and his employees wear uniforms to build team cohesiveness and instill a sense of professionalism. It costs $200 to outfit one employee with 11 sets of shirts and pants. The dairy also pays for uniform laundry service each week. "It's costly, but the uniforms make a difference,” Pacheco says. New employees are eager to get their uniforms but receive them only after a three-month, on-the-job trial period.

Cross-training. Employees are trained to know how to do more than one job. "If one is out, another fills in and we don't miss a beat,” Pacheco says. Milkers are trained to wash the barn. Outside employees assist with calving and calf feeding, and some are taught how to feed cows.

Conveying expectations. Pacheco and his herdsman sit down with each new hire to review the employee handbook and safety manual. The new worker is then assigned to a veteran employee for the first 30 days. After that, Pacheco questions the worker about things he should know by then. "If he doesn't, I ask the veteran employee why,” Pacheco says. After another few weeks, the veteran will let Pacheco know if the new hire is a good fit or should be let go.

Keeping employees trained and motivated pays long-term dividends for your dairy.
"Once they're part of the team, all employees are expected to carry their own weight,” Pacheco says. "So my veteran employees want contributing members, not someone who is just getting by. We strive to be above-average and our wages are above-average, so their performance must be above-average.”

Pacheco lets employees know they can quit without notice but, likewise, can be fired without notice.

Pay ranges from California's minimum wage of $8/hour to management-level monthly salaries. The dairy also provides medical benefits and a retirement plan. Pacheco pays no incentives but offers a milk quality bonus, which is divided among all employees. "It all goes back to the teamwork philosophy,” he says.

Quarterly meetings. Pacheco holds quarterly employee meetings to review safety practices, reinforce goals and challenges and discuss other dairy matters.

Correcting mistakes. "We understand that mistakes happen,” Pacheco says. "I stress to my employees that it's OK, but not to make the same mistake twice.”

If that happens, Pacheco brings the employee to his office, where they go over the error in the presence of a third party, usually his herdsman. "I explain how the mistake is detrimental to the dairy and to the employee,” he says.

If the mistake is repeated, Pacheco implements the rules of his employee handbook, which includes a first-step verbal warning, followed by a written warning if the mistake reoccurs and finally a dismissal. "I've never had to go beyond the verbal warning,” he says.

Speaking the same language. With Spanish-speaking employees making up more than 95% of his work force, Pacheco decided he needed to learn their language. He went to night school to refresh what he calls "my high school Spanish.”

Dealing with challenges. Issues at home can sometimes affect employees at work, Pacheco says, and he understands that. "We have rigid rules here, but we're extremely flexible when it comes to family needs,” he says. Married with three children, Pacheco strives to maintain a family atmosphere on the dairy. "I like to attend my kids' functions, and I want my employees to be able to do that too,” he says. DT

Bonus content:

Elanco J. Miguel Morales on employee training.

University of Nebraska''s Jeffrey Keown on employee training.

Learn more about employee management and training at:

The Iowa State University Extension website.

The University of Minnesota Dairy Extension website. 

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