Employee in milking parlor.
March 31, 2017

‘You Get the Team You Build’

 |  By: Dairy Talk

By Jim Dickrell

Taking care of cows is important. Taking care of the people who take care of the cows is paramount.  

“Your people make your cows, and you make your people,” argues Tom Wall, a labor management consultant based in Green Bay, Wis. He spoke March 27th at the Associated Milk Producers, Inc. annual meeting in Bloomington, Minn. http://dairycoach.com/meet/

Good dairy managers understand that the success of any dairy largely depends on successful employees. But too few are willing to put the time and effort into employee management that increases the odds of their success.

Wall is quick to acknowledge the reality that good people are hard to find. But once you hire someone, how you train, monitor, motivate, discipline and reward is on you. “You get the team you build,” Wall emphasizes. And the only person who can take control of the culture on your dairy is you. “The ‘raffle rule’ applies: You must be present to win.”

Employee management is less about the employee and more about the management. “The fix isn’t the employees, it’s management,” he says. Wall says there are five key steps to this engagement:

Clarify. Employees must understand what you need them to do. Put expectations in writing so they are clear. On a practical level, clarification can be as simple as having consistent colors on teat dip cups: Green for pre-dip; blue for post dip.

Communicate. Once you have clarified what needs to be done, tell them why it must be done in a certain way. You don’t have to go into the science of oxytocin release and milk let down, but you need to explain why lag time between drying teats and unit attachment is important for the cow to milk out quickly and completely. If you don’t consistently communicate expectations, employees soon figure out what is acceptable, even if it’s not at the higher level of expectation.

Connect. If you expect employees to care about your cows and your dairy, you need to connect with them on a personal basis. Show them you appreciate them on a daily basis. As competition for employees grows, you need to give your employees a reason to stay with you. Show respect for the work people do by keeping equipment in good operating condition and fixing equipment as soon as possible after it breaks.

Manage. Pay attention. Know the protocols you expect employees to follow. And follow through. “If you’re not managing, who is?” asks Wall. “You must have the consistent courage to follow through. If you see something that is being done incorrectly, say something,” says Wall.

Recognize. Some dairies give the same raise every year to every employee. But if you treat everyone the same, your best performing employees will likely leave and you will be left with average and sub-par performers. “Reward what is of value,” says Wall.