Taking care of animals is important. Taking care of the people who take care of the animals is paramount.
“Your people make your animals, and you make your people,” says Tom Wall, a dairy labor management consultant based in Green Bay, Wis. Good managers understand the success of any production system 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 farm is you.
“The ‘raffle rule’ applies: You must be present to win,” he says. “The fix isn’t the employees; it’s management.”
He says there are five key steps to this engagement:
Employees must understand what you need them to do. Put expectations in writing so they are clear. Don’t just give them a manual on operating procedures; go through it and watch them perform tasks required of them in the right way.
Once you have clarified what needs to be done, tell employees why it must be done that way. You don’t have to go into the science behind everything, but you should explain why it’s important to dry pigs off after they’re born, and why keeping the sow comfortable is necessary. If you don’t consistently communicate expectations, employees figure out what is acceptable, even if it’s not at the higher level of expectation.
If you expect employees to care about your animals and your operation, 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 yours 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.
Pay attention. Know the protocols you expect employees to follow. And follow through. “If you’re not managing, who is?” Wall asks. “You must have the consistent courage to follow through. If you see something that is being done incorrectly, say something.” It’s best to immediately correct a bad practice, even if it happens on a Friday night and you’re trying to get to a football game. Left undisciplined, the bad practice can become habit and routine.
Some manager/owners 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 subpar performers. Employees who put in extra effort deserve extra recognition. “Reward what is of value,” Wall says.