Written by Anibal Ballarotti for Progressive Dairy
Since 1970, the number of dairy farms in the U.S. has dropped by more than 93%, from more than 640,000 to around 40,000 in 2018. In an industry dominated by large organizations, smaller family farms face constant economic challenges.
One strategy to confront the competition, not available to many producers, is to increase herd size. Larger herds may require more employees. Managers are then faced with the need to adequately integrate and train new hires for best performance. In response to these changes in the agricultural business, management techniques are needed to provide greater access to adequate training, technical support, performance evaluation and active personnel management to create a successful work environment. Following are some critical steps in a successful management strategy:
1. Provide new employee orientation and training.
A well-defined new employee orientation program pays dividends. If you want to see positive work attitudes, higher productivity and improved rates of employee retention, it is important to establish clear expectations and standards for all new hires. The effective manager does not relegate this to a mentor who may otherwise give direct support to a new hire. The manager should instead establish this as a supplemental, stand-alone program. The new employee orientation program should be designed to assist them in adjusting to their jobs and work environment and to instill a positive work attitude and motivation from day one. Effective orientation training starts with the first day on the job and is best completed within the first week or so. Such a program facilitates the socialization of the new employee in the work environment and reduces the natural anxiety we all experience in a new job. Studies have shown that reducing stress makes education more effective, rendering the new employee able to better focus, absorb and retain information about the new tasks.
The main content of the orientation training can include:
- Introductions: Introduce the new employee to the colleagues and provide an organization chart with the structure, names of the other employees, including people that often visit the farm, such as truck drivers, veterinarians, consultants, suppliers and whoever should be recognized as an official visitor.
- Job description: Use this document to discuss specific tasks to be done, emphasizing that training of basic safety and specific tasks will be provided by technical support. Following that, do not fail to provide it. This is important to demonstrate that your organization truly values the new worker.
- Employee policies: Do not just present a pile of papers to be signed. Rather, this is an opportunity to review the key policies, explain work expectations, and review compensation and benefits.
- Overview of the farm: It is a good idea to set forth the organization’s values and history. Give the employee an opportunity to ask questions and then answer them truthfully. Finally, this is a good time to share your mission statement, goals and objectives. Properly done, this will make the newest member of your operation feel welcome, integrated and knowledgeable of his new role as a contributor to the success of the dairy.
2. Give your employees feedback.
In general, the only time employees receive any feedback is when the work is poorly done. This situation creates negative feelings, leading to a lack of motivation and, consequently, reduced performance. Break this habit. Create an active learning and positive environment by scheduling meetings often to explain “why we do what we do” and how we could do it better. Maybe the employee does not know how to do the job properly because of insufficient training. Or, he/she may not understand why certain tasks must be done in a specific way. He may think he is doing well but, absent feedback, will not really understand at all. In other cases, he may believe incorrectly that a certain task must be completed as fast as possible, regardless of perhaps more important considerations. Thoughtful, timely feedback is an important element of good management.
3. Invite employee feedback.
Encourage your employees to feel they are part of the business and its future. Show them the impact of their good work performance and ask for their ideas for ways to make it even better. If you are planning a change or to implement some new standard operational procedures (SOP), ask for their feedback. Ideas from those closest to a given task can be very valuable. Their involvement also underscores their sense of being a valued part of the operation, which in turn promotes a dedication to doing their very best work.
4. Find the right task for the right worker
This is one of the most important tasks of the manager – building an effective work team to produce consistent results. Matching an employee with the task(s) at which he excels yields superior results. Depending on the employee’s job responsibility, he needs to have some specific personal characteristics. For example, for calving management, traits such as attention to details, knowledge level, patience with animals, a higher level of compliance and accountability are all skills significantly associated with that responsibility. Training schools for dairy personnel are a critical management tool and supervised, hands-on training provides a metric to evaluate employees’ levels of knowledge, skills and attention to detail. According to the manager’s observations, he can always adjust the workers and positions to find the best person for a given task.
5. Can you say “thank you”?
You prepared a complete orientation program to make sure everything was covered. Then, you assigned the supervisor to teach the new member the job. You are offering a good compensation package, which includes nice benefits. In addition, you brought in a specialist to provide bilingual training to make sure the employee understands the “whys” to improve performance. Your new employee is already reflecting a great attitude and helping to create a positive work environment. All right, great. Of course, we all agree you are a very busy person, but it is important to dedicate some time on the plant floor. Show your employees your appreciation, say “thank you” for all they are doing for your business.
In times when it’s a challenge to retain good employees, if you prepare a positive work environment for the members of your business, implement frequent performance assessments, ask and give feedback, provide educational training, match the correct worker for a given job, utilize good communication skills to express your appreciation, your employees will be ready to go the extra mile. Working together in this way, you will see better performance and profitability.
Anibal Ballarotti. Consultant – ABS Global.
Originally published on Progressive Dairy