A recent business magazine article (The Best Ways to Reward Employees) listed “a strategic reward system for employees” under the heading Growth Strategies. At first glance it may seem strange that a strategy for growth is rewarding employees, but consider how key the workforce on your dairy is to the day-to-day completion of tasks that have huge impacts on your bottom line. Cutting corners in the milking parlor? A new case of mastitis costs hundreds of dollars per cow. Missing a few feed push-ups? A two-pound drop in dry matter intake means four pounds less milk per cow in the tank. So if you want to grow your dairy income, think about starting with improvements in the management of your workforce.
An online article from Monster for Employers (What are the big motivation factors for employees?) reported employees often say they are leaving a job for “financial reasons” in order to preserve good references or because they don’t see anything changing if they tell the truth. So what are some of the real reasons that workers leave? There will always be a variety of issues surrounding worker turnover, and sometimes money may be an influencer, but often times it is those “other things” that keep an employee loyal to the dairy or cause them to look for work elsewhere. Gathering data on a farm last fall, I was talking with a long-time herd manager about his tenure at the dairy, and two things stuck in my mind from that conversation. He stayed at the dairy because “it was a pretty good place to work and they care about what I think” and because “I was almost always able to see my kids play ball.” Flexibility in scheduling allowed him to make up time so that he could leave early to be with his children, and his opinions and ideas mattered to the owners. In this case, these factors were more powerful motivators than a higher paycheck from the neighboring dairy. Reducing working turnover and keeping long-term employees with key knowledge of your dairy saves money.
Profit margins in the dairy industry have been tight in recent times, and many businesses are looking for ways to earn more, spend less, and improve their bottom line. When considering ways to boost profits, do not overlook the assets you have in people. Both of the earlier articles referred to aspects of performance management—reward and recognize people for positive behaviors that impact things like cow comfort, feed efficiency, or milk quality. Research detailed in Managing Employee Performance (login required) shows that creating a business culture focused on performance—setting goals and holding workers accountable—helps to improve worker performance. Recognition of outstanding performance is a strong motivator for employees. Likewise, ignoring the poor performance of marginal workers is a strong demotivator for those same top-level employees. Think about working side-by-side with someone who does sloppy work, takes longer breaks, comes in late for work (you get the picture!) but gets paid the same at the end of the week as you do. How do you feel about your work, your job, your boss, yourself? Now think about working side-by-side with that same worker, where your manager praises your good work and your co-worker comes back from a break grumbling because the boss says he has to go back and fix his mistake from earlier in the day. How do these two very different situations influence your attitude and mindset?
Communication and providing informal feedback from managers to workers needs to happen daily. While as a manager it is important to correct worker errors privately, it is critical to correct mistakes in a timely manner. Negative worker attitudes and sloppy work can fly through the air and take hold on your dairy like the flu virus in a crowded airport! Likewise, those “cutting corners” behaviors can erode away day-to-day efficiency of operation and care of animals. So before the week is up, take some time to notice what is happening in various aspects of your dairy and with your workers. Make time to offer positive feedback to those workers doing above average work. Make time to notice areas where retraining may be necessary because procedural drift away from the correct way of completing a task has happened. Make time to invest in your workers, and your return on that investment may just surprise you in your next milk check.