3 Tips to Help Dairy Employees Succeed
Management strategies to support employee growth and success
By: Travis Thayer, DVM
Labor management is one of the biggest day-to-day challenges that dairy managers face. Employee turnover and declining employee morale can be huge drains on productivity and profitability, and while there is no magic bullet for employee management, there are definitely steps that a manager can take to decrease churn and increase employees’ satisfaction with their positions. I’ve found these three to be especially useful at reducing dissatisfaction and maintaining an engaged, passionate workforce:
Provide Clear Communication
Many times what looks like disobedience or individual failures are actually problems with clarity or knowledge. Lack of clarity and direction can make well-intentioned employees throw up their hands and stop trying, while from the outside it looks like they just don’t care. Do employees know what your definition of a “good” job in their area means?
For example, is telling a maternity employee: “We have too many DOAs. You need to do a better job so that more live calves are born” likely to work? Probably not. Instead, make sure that they understand how to recognize normal stages of labor and how to properly assist when the cow needs help. Have you provided adequate training to transfer this knowledge? Who trains new employees? Do employees have all the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs effectively? How do you respond when they ask for equipment and/or assistance in challenging situations?
Employees will often “make do” the best they can if they are made to feel bad about asking for equipment, or for additional assistance. This can end up costing your operation much more in the long run, so check in with them and listen to what they are telling you. Of course, not all changes or requests may be realistic at the time, so simply explain why this might be the case but be sure to thank them and continue to encourage their feedback.
Another area to focus on is establishing clear, concise protocols for specific tasks (e.g. assisting with the birthing process for maternity employees, milking procedure, sick cow treatment protocols, etc.), and posting reminders of them in work areas – preferably with pictures as well as text.
Provide regular feedback to employees about their performance. Compliment and/or reward them for successes and provide constructive feedback when performance falls below expectations. It can also be helpful to ensure that performance goals established for employees during reviews are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound – learn more about developing SMART goals here). Well defined goals with regular feedback can help employees understand their place in the organization, and it can positively impact employee morale by creating achievable goals and when possible, showing your employees examples of the impact their work has on the dairy’s success.
Provide Opportunities for Growth
Work with your management, veterinary, and nutrition teams, as well as trusted allied industry resources, to establish training/learning opportunities for team members in all departments. When possible, provide employees with opportunities to advance within your team. Employees who advance to management positions from within already know your systems and people and require less training to get up to speed. Having an opportunity for advancement encourages retention of high performing employees who otherwise may leave your business to seek opportunities elsewhere, which can have major costs in turnover and employee morale.
Labor challenges will continue to be a pressing issue, and most dairies I visit have expressed frustration with employees in one area or another. The most effective managers I have met seek to understand employee perspectives and challenges, strive to remove barriers that undercut performance, and work to provide a roadmap to success.