Tighten Up the ''Rookie Window''

September 29, 2009 07:00 PM

By Jim Dickrell

Every employee you hire suffers through the "rookie window,” the time between his or her first day on your dairy until he or she starts to productively contribute to your dairy.

"The key,” says Tom Wall, an employee management specialist, "is to keep the ‘rookie window' as short as possible. It might take a week, a month or three months…and we have to work to not let the employee fall back into the rookie window after he's been with us for a while.”

Wall, with Language Links, LLC, Green Bay, Wis., made his presentation at one of World Dairy Expo education seminars Wednesday. There are five steps to helping rookies become productive employees:

  • Organization. You need job descriptions, job evaluations, written warning sheets, pay scales and standard operating procedures written down in both English and Spanish that can be handed to the employee so that he or she understands your expectations. Work routines need to be as specific as possible and must be designed to work.
  • Communication. "Communicating is so much more than speaking the same language,” says Wall. Use both formal communications—regular staff meetings and evaluations—and informal communications to let employees know what your expectations are. "I'm a huge believer in frequent feedback, but it must be specific,” he says. "Don't just tell them they are doing a good job. Be specific, such as telling them they are doing a good job of teat coverage with dipping teats.”
  • Lead your team. A leader's job is to focus on teamwork. "It's a vicious cycle. When the morning shift gets behind, work gets back up and puts the night shift behind. They can't get their work done,” says Wall. So you need to ensure workers have the right tools and skills to get jobs done as you expect them to be done.
  • Effectively manage. "Walk around and observe what's happening on your dairy,” Wall suggests. Take pictures of things being done correctly and incorrectly, and post them on the breakroom wall. Also ask why employees are doing things certain ways. It's the perfect opening to correcting procedural drift and an opportunity for you to better understand that they might not have the right tools to do things correctly.
  • Reward. All employees must be treated with respect. "Without worker dignity, the other things don't mean much,” says Wall. Also offer compliments and "atta boys,” but be specific in your praise.

Raises are also critical, but use them to encourage people to want to continue to excel. Giving automatic raises after three months or six months or a year, or giving the same raises to everyone, only raise your cost of production. "In these situations, workers will sink to the lowest level of performance,” says Wall.

Wall recommends telling employees they are eligible for a raise of up to 50¢ per hour at their next review. That way, if they only partially meet expectations, you can give them a 25¢/hour raise. Then offer the rest if they meet all expectations by their next review. The employee needs to know why he or she is getting the raise and what they need to do to earn the next raise, says Wall. Base those expectations on your written job description so expectations are clear.

For more information, go to www.dairyinteractive.com.

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