Stan Moore, a senior educator at the University of Michigan, recently co-led a project designed to improve employee management by using employee feedback.
To accomplish this, Moore and his colleagues conducted a survey of 168 employees at 12 dairy operations (average size: 850 cows) in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. Seventy-seven of the employees were English speakers and 91 spoke Spanish. Farm owners and managers also completed a survey regarding what they expected their employees would say.
The survey results indicated six areas where farmer-owners could focus:
1. Develop and communicate clear goals.
Employees were asked to name three goals of the operations they worked for. Although a number of them said they knew what those goals were, none could articulate them specifically. “Goals need to be measureable, timed, achievable — everything smart goals should be,” says Moore. “Employers should develop specific goals with employees and communicate them effectively.”
2. Encourage employee input.
View all employee input as a gift, even bad ideas, says Moore. “We can’t force employees to be motivated, but we certainly can demotivate them by the way we respond to their suggestions,” says Moore. Even if their ideas need work, employees still have good intentions. Talking through their ideas with them lets you determine if their suggestions could work. It also gives you another opportunity to reiterate the goals of your operation.
3. Manage employee-to-employee relationships.
If an employee works hard, that employee wants to see others pull their weight too. If disparities aren’t addressed, the employees who just want to collect a paycheck will stay, while those who are willing to go the extra mile will leave. “You can’t make employees like each other, but you can refocus them on the goals and let them know you hold everyone accountable for getting the job done,” says Moore.
4. Communicate effectively.
Moore recommends communicating with every employee at least once a week. This may be difficult with very large operations, but employers still need to at least be visible — and not only when something is wrong. “Employees need to see their employer as more than just ‘The Hammer’ who comes around when there’s trouble,” he says. “Employers should ask employees what they think, and then listen to what they say.”
5. Deliver progressive training opportunities.
Go deeper with each training; for example, help employees understand the biology behind a particular disease or infection they may encounter in their work. “Employees want to be successful and part of a winning team,” says Moore. “Give them credit for that and provide training to help them be successful, tying that training back to achieving your operation’s goals.”
6. Provide specific, positive feedback.
Employers often see positive feedback as fluff, which is not how it should be. “Feedback needs to be specifically about what you saw an employee do that led to a positive outcome, which ultimately is helping achieve an operational goal,” says Moore. “Make feedback about performance and meeting performance goals. That was, it’s easy to avoid the ‘fluffy stuff’ that no one wants to do.”
Stan Moore moderated a panel on workforce management strategies at Farm Credit’s Insights Conference. To learn more from our Insights Conference speakers, click here.