Employees can be Great 'Dairy Ambassadors'

Posted: October 22, 2010

Conversations that your employees have off the farm reflect on you and your business and go a long way in shaping your image in the community. But you can’t control what employees say on their time off, right? Wrong.

Stuck in line at the store and the person behind me is lamenting about her work place woes.  It doesn’t sound like a great place to work.  As I finally make my way to the front of the line, I encounter a grumpy clerk in no real hurry.  Well . . . maybe there’s a better place to take my business.  These two individuals paint a very dim picture of their respective employers and the businesses for which they work.  If it were YOUR dairy employees that I encountered, would the picture be the same or very different?  How do your employees talk about your dairy when they are away from the farm?  Are they helping your dairy’s image in the community . . . or not?

Good employees can be “ambassadors” for your dairy in the community – telling stories about top notch animal care, safe food production and a good place to work.  Much focus has been placed on the social media and electronic communication, but don’t underestimate the simple conversations that happen every day in the local venues around your farm. 

Conversations that your employees have off the farm reflect on you and your business and go a long way in shaping your image in the community.  But you can’t control what employees say on their time off, right?  Wrong.  You have a tremendous influence over whether or not you are growing your employees into “great dairy ambassadors” for your business or whether you are helping to create assassins of your dairy’s image. 

Begin growing your own dairy ambassadors by asking the following questions:
1. Is my dairy truly a great place to work?
2. Are my employees “part of the team” or just putting in time?
3. Are there legitimate work related issues that my employees are likely to grumble about off the farm?

Part of growing your own dairy ambassadors is creating a positive work environment where employees feel like they are part of the “whole” and where owners have invested in the human resources, not just in cows and crops.  In the past 18 months, some dairies have eliminated pay raises or cut the workforce to cope with economic realities.  How has that impacted the morale of the workforce?  Not all business changes can positively affect workers, but the environment in which those changes are made and communicated should always be positive.  Regular, effective communication is one key.  It takes time and it takes effort to grow your very own dairy ambassadors. 

Here are some key steps to take:
1. Take time to screen employees thoroughly during the interview and hiring process.  Don’t assume they’ll fit into your dairy.
2. Take time to develop training programs and standard operating procedures so that work can be done correctly and consistently.  Don’t assume employees know how.
3. Take time to clarify job expectations and review regularly.  Don’t assume employees understand.
4. Take time to praise what’s done right and privately correct what’s done wrong. Don’t assume praise is not valued.
5. Post a business mission statement and talk to employees about what is important to you and to your dairy.  Don’t assume your values are clear.
6. Take time to talk with each employee, every day.  Communication is vital. Don’t assume your employees don’t need to hear from you. They do.

If you value those conversations that happen once your employees leave the farm gate, then take time to influence them in a positive direction.  Grow your own dairy ambassadors through placing a priority on hiring and training the best people, developing good human resource management skills, and focus on great communication each and every day.  So the next conversation that I overhear in the grocery store line is about this fantastic dairy farm down the road.  Make it yours!

- Dr. Lisa Holden, associate professor, Penn State Department of Dairy and Animal Science