Create an Extraordinary Workforce With a Proactive Approach

Published on: 16:57PM Apr 01, 2010

By Bob Milligan, Dairy Strategies


Wonders never cease! We had a snowless March in St. Paul for the first time in recorded history. Spring is here.


More correctly stated: First-line employees on farms, golf courses, construction businesses, etc., can now focus on growing crops, manicuring the greens and building houses. Their managers must also focus on leading, supervising and coaching these employees. 


In today’s complicated, competitive and ever-changing world, superior productivity and business success require an extraordinary workforce. Many of you have heard or read my discussion of control-focused vs. quality-focused supervision. A key contrast is the reactive nature of the control-focused vs. the proactive coaching of the quality-focused.


Let’s look at a recent and startling piece of research by Gallup. The research sought to determine the impact of the manager’s approach to coaching employee performance on employee engagement. Employee engagement is the degree of focus on successful performance to enable the business to succeed. It has been shown to be a key determinant of business success.


The employees in the research were asked how involved their supervisor was in their performance.  The three categories were:

·         My supervisor focuses mostly on building on my strengths.

·         My supervisor focuses mostly on fixing my weaknesses.

·         My supervisor does not focus on either meaning the supervisor provides little or no performance feedback.


They found a dramatic difference in the engagement level. Looking at the percentage of disengaged employees, they found:

·         40% were actively disengaged when performance issues were ignored.

·         22% were actively disengaged when performance discussions focused on weaknesses.

·         Only 1% was actively disengaged when performance discussions focused on strengths.


Two important messages are found in these results:

1.     Employees want and need performance feedback!

2.     Performance discussions should primarily focus on building on strengths.


A third and overriding conclusion is that the attainment of an extraordinary workforce with superior productivity and great job satisfaction does not happen by accident.  It requires a proactive approach to workforce issues.


To help you move toward the noble goal of an extraordinary workforce, we ask four questions:


1.     What is an extraordinary workforce?


The Gallop work has clearly shown that the key to an extraordinary workforce is engagement. An engaged employee is one who gains great satisfaction from working to fulfill his/her performance expectations and contribute to the success of the business.


2.     How do we know if we have an extraordinary workforce?


Let me suggest that owners and employees who are part of an extraordinary workforce would enthusiastically answer “yes” to two questions:


  1. Do I have everything I need and am I confident I can meet and exceed my performance expectations?

  2. Am I excited -- even passionate -- about meeting and exceeding these expectations to enable the farm or other business to succeed?


Start by thinking about yourself. Can you answer “yes” to these questions?  Now think about how other owners and employees would answer the question.  Perhaps the next step is to ask them.


3.     What is needed to answer “yes” to each of the questions?


An answer of “yes” to the question, “Do I have everything I need and am I confident I can meet and exceed my performance expectations?” requires each of the following:


a)     Training and continuing professional development. The key word in the question is “confident.”  Training, coaching and continuing opportunities to grow are required to succeed and especially to be confident that one can succeed. Many of you have been watching March Madness. Think of the training, coaching and practice required to have the confidence to execute the play that will determine the outcome of the game or to make the winning free throw.


b)    Clarity of expectations, behavior and performance, “chalking the field.” Continuing our March Madness analogy, think of the clarity provided to the players by knowing the rules of the game and by the expectations set by their coaches. Members of an extraordinary workforce also require this level of clarity. This clarity includes establishing clear employee performance expectations.


c)     Performance feedback. Workforce members cannot answer that they are meeting and exceeding performance expectations until these expectations are established and they are receiving positive redirection and negative feedback.


An answer of “yes” to the question, “Am I excited -- even passionate -- about meeting and exceeding these expectations to enable the farm or other business to succeed?” requires each of the following:


a)     An excellent and well trained supervisor.


b)    Outstanding business/course/club leadership. 


4.     How can our farm or other business provide what is needed to get” yes” answers?


Let's start by returning to planting those crops and manicuring those greens. Think about how the incredible progress of the last several decades has been made.  The answer is twofold: outstanding research and the implementation of systems and processes to utilize that research.


How then do we get “yes” answers? I think you know the answer: research and systems/processes.  We have the research from organization like Gallop. What we need now are the proactive systems and processes to implement that research.


Specifically, “yes” answers to the two questions – and an extraordinary workforce -- can only happen with systems and processes for:

·         Hiring employees with the competencies to succeed – minimize mis-hires.

·         “Chalking the field.”

·         Performance feedback.

·         Continuing growth and professional development.


We can help you develop and implement those processes and systems to attain an extraordinary workforce.


Dr. Bob Milligan is Senior Consultant with Dairy Strategies, LLC and Professor Emeritus, Cornell University. His insights come from 35 years of working with farm businesses. He also was an award-winning teacher in the fifth-ranked undergraduate business program in the country. Bob lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Contact him at 651 647-0495 or [email protected]. Visit his Web site at or