dairy workers
October 26, 2017

Ease Up on Rigid SOPs

 |  By: Mike Opperman

On any given day on a dairy there are any number of jobs that have to be performed for the operation to run smoothly, from milking to feeding to manure handling and more. For each job to be completed efficiently, workers need to be able to follow a written set of guidelines that set parameters for how you, as an owner, want the work to be completed. But not every job is the same, nor does every job need to be guided by a set of rigid protocols. Some tasks can allow employees to make decisions within a certain framework based on their expertise.

“The right person armed with the right means can use individual initiative to tweak the rules of standard procedures for the right reasons, creating better results,” says Brad Power, a business consultant. In any organization, owners have the opportunity to define adherence to standard operating procedures. Below, Power breaks procedures down into three categories in a Harvard Business Review article: “To build an organization’s capabilities, and to increase people’s overall engagement and motivation, leaders should give team members every opportunity to take initiative and be creative,” Power says. Use your own comfort level to allow flexibility in standard operating procedures.

MUST DO procedures. These are procedures that must be completed per the written guidelines every time. Deviation from these procedures would require permission from management. These are often safety procedures or processes for handling emergencies. On a dairy, these could include tasks such as worker safety around the feed pad and bunker silos, or procedures for handling non-ambulatory cows

SHOULD DO practices. These practices allow workers to experiment with practices to make procedures more efficient. “Workers identify problems, develop a hypothesis about how the work can be improved, change one variable at a time and observe whether it makes the work better,” Power says. A change to milking procedures that improves cow flow could be a process that allows for worker creativity.

MAY DO discretion. This discretion, Power says, empowers workers to be flexible within standards to achieve desired outcomes. On dairies, employees work in systems with animals, big equipment, adverse weather conditions and other factors that can alter a procedure. In some situations, workers should be given autonomy to make changes to the procedure based on environmental changes.