Good management creates good employees

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Farmer milking cows
Farm and Dairy file photo.

How a job or task gets done is often more important than just checking it off the list as completed.

Think about the difference between an employee in the milking parlor following a prescribed pre-milking procedure, with adherence to milking unit attachment based on timing of milk letdown, ending with careful post-dipping versus an employee milking cows with no discernible pattern, timing of milking unit attachment or consistent pre- and post-dip application.  In both cases, the cows are milked, but the difference in potential cases of mastitis and/or somatic cell count will be significant between those employees.

As another example consider TMR preparation. One employee is meticulous about assembling the ration ingredients, ensuring proper amounts and weights are added and providing adequate mixing time. Another employee uses more of a “its close enough” approach to feed mixing. Again, both get the job done, but the bulk tank tells a story of which employee prepared the TMR.

The issue in both examples is job quality and how it affects the bottom line on the farm.

Trust

How can a farm manager improve job performance and job quality in employees and family members? A 2018 Ag Hires online article entitled How to grow trust on your farm said that a common factor on high performing farm teams is trust.

When there is a high level of trust between the manager or owner and employees, tasks are done with attention to detail, employees go the extra mile, and relationships grow. Developing employees who care about the quality of the job depends upon trust. Trust is built upon a foundation of good communication and honesty.

Nobody is perfect

All of us are going to fall short at some point or make a mistake. Sometimes that mistake is made due to stress, tiredness, misunderstanding or not knowing the why behind a job procedure or protocol. In these situations, how do you as a manager respond to poor job performance, a mistake or an error of judgement?

Bob Milligan of Dairy Strategies, a human resource management consultant, says that managers have two ways of responding to poor job performance or an employee mistake. Reacting in a negative manner or providing redirection feedback.

Reacting negatively, either with anger or by blaming the person’s personal characteristics such as lack of motivation, effort or commitment, will erode trust and damage the relationship with the employee.

This creates a situation where the employee becomes defensive, sometimes responding back with anger.  In these situations, effective listening disappears, and the root cause of the problem goes undiscovered.  The employee is unlikely to go the extra mile in the future. This type of reaction and interaction shuts down constructive conversations and produces a work atmosphere of fear and/or resentment.

Redirection feedback, on the other hand, involves the manager partnering with the employee to discover and analyze why job performance is poor or a mistake was made. Did the employee have enough training to do the job correctly? Was there adequate supervision and explanation of what needed to be done? Were there unpredictable circumstances that led to poor performance or errors? Were there unreasonable expectations?

In this type of feedback and conversation, trust is built. What is being communicated is that you as the manager want the employee to succeed and that you have their best interests in mind. Under these circumstances, employees are more likely to take ownership of their job in the future and feel free to share ideas and ask questions that will benefit the farm operation.

Accountability

A recent article in Milk Business, titled How to talk to team members about poor performance quotes Dave Mitchell, founder of The Leadership Difference consulting firm, as saying, “The first time someone shows me that they don’t know how to do something, that is reflective of the leader, so that’s my fault.

The second time is our fault, as they share some accountability. If there is a skill the employee doesn’t have, he or she needs to tell me. The third time, it is the employee’s fault. If you have that model, you don’t fire people — they fire themselves.”

The point here is that good managing and coaching of employees provides a plan to help employees improve. Good managers create an atmosphere where employees know that it is ok to make honest mistakes and discussions are about problem-solving and improvement, not assigning blame.  Building trust relationships results in improved employee performance and ultimately potential for more farm profitability.

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