On-time, consistent feed delivery of a well-formulated ration is essential for your farm’s productivity and your bottom line, since feeding too much, too little or not feeding what the ration prescribes can cost you in lost milk production, wasted feedstuffs or both.

So, what do you need to do to motivate your feeders to ensure a job well done? Is it time to dig out incentives, more training, or even a performance-tracking program?

Not so fast. “Motivation works best as a partnership between employers and employees, a building-together challenge rather than simply a challenge for the employer to find magical things that can be done to or for employees,” says Bernie Erven, Ohio State University farm management professor emeritus.

Everybody wants to get to the mechanics of employee motivation, but you must lay some groundwork first, agrees Don Tyler, personnel-management specialist at Tyler & Associates in Clarks Hill, Ind. “Too often, what happens is that we put together a motivational program for employees based on what ‘ought’ to work, but we don’t ask employees what matters to them.”

Use these tips to get to the core of what motivates your employees.

Talk, but also listen

Knowledge of their people is the thing that sets the good managers apart from the rest, says Tyler. “They know employees individually and what motivates each person.”

This doesn’t require an involved, sophisticated approach. Take five minutes to informally visit with your employees to find out why they come to work each day and what’s important to them. Then, listen to what they have to say. Don’t assume you know what their answers will be. Do this periodically to stay on top of what people are thinking about.

Otherwise, you’ll miss opportunities. Case in point: the often-referenced 1999 study at George Mason University that compared employee ranking of what they wanted from their jobs with what their bosses thought was important to the employees. In order of importance, employees said:

•   Interesting work.

•   Appreciation of work.

•   A feeling of being ‘in on things’

•   Job security

•   Good wages.

But employers thought the ranking would be: “good wages, job security, promotion/growth, good working conditions and interesting work.”

Your task is to avoid that disconnect, whether your employees are unrelated to you or are immediate family members.

“I recently met with 12 members of a family that work together,” recalls Tyler. “As we sat around the table and I asked each one what motivated them, only two said the same thing, and most were unaware, or were even surprised, by the answers given. And some of these individuals had worked together for decades. They just never talked about it.”

Dig deeper

While talking about individual motivations is a good start, you need to go a few steps farther. A 2005 study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (see the video cited in the sidebar below) says that once you have satisfied basic money needs, that is, you provide a fair wage for the work performed, people are motivated by three things:

1. Autonomy. This is the ability to be self-directed. While some people require a lot of autonomy and other significantly less, everyone wants at least some say in what they do and how they do it.

2. Mastery. This is the ability to get better at “stuff,” whatever it may be.

3. Purpose. This is the answer to the question, “Am I doing something worthwhile?”

“We do a pretty good job with the first two points,” says Tyler. “There’s a fair amount of variety in jobs on dairies, and we use motivational mastery as a motivator when we say ‘Hey, you’re getting better at this.’ But we really take purpose for granted in agriculture.”

Too many workers don’t know why they are doing what they do. In order to get people emotionally connected to their work, they need to know the overall strategy and why their jobs are so important to that strategy, says Jason Jennings, best-selling author of books such as “Hit the Ground Running” and “Think Big Act Small”

One way to counter this is to share performance figures with your staff and show how what they do affects other areas on the dairy, as well as how your dairy impacts milk production/consumption in your county or state.

Don’t forget the little things

The golden rule is still alive and well when it comes to motivation.

People tend to their best work when they are in an environment that makes them feel valued, where they get a pat on the back or a thank-you for a job well done. Find out how employees prefer to receive this recognition. Some prefer this to occur in private, while others desire more public recognition of their efforts.

These courtesies may seem simple, but managers sometimes forget to use them, say Allen Wysocki, professor, and Karl Kepner, distinguished service professor, in the University of Florida’s Department of Food and Resource Economics.

“Managers should not assume that people feel valued just because they continue to be productive,” the researchers note.

You must also remove the factors that drain motivation. For example, train new hires to do their job properly, recommends Erven. Provide appropriate tools, safe equipment, facilities and adequate supplies. Make expectations clear and be certain that employees are willing and able to perform the assigned tasks.

Feed the synergy

The true partnership between employer and employee in the motivation challenge requires each to understand and play their parts well and learn to adapt to each other and the situation, he adds.

Avoid the trap of thinking that everyone is motivated by the same things or in the same manner. “We need to appreciate each other,” concludes Tyler.

Manager’s motivation quiz

Is your dairy as good a place to work as you can make it? Experts at the University of Florida have developed the following list of 10 questions managers should ask themselves to help provide a more positive motivational climate in their workplace.

1.    Do you personally thank staff for a job well done?

2.    Is feedback timely and specific?

3.    Do you make time to meet with — and listen to — staff on a regular basis?

4.    Is your workplace open, trusting and fun?

5.    Do you encourage and reward initiative and new ideas?

6.    Do you share information about your business with employees on a regular basis?

7.    Do you involve employees in decisions, especially those decisions that will affect them?

8.    Do you provide employees with a sense of ownership of their jobs and your business as a whole?

9.    Do you give employees the chance to succeed?

10.  Do you reward employees based on their performance?

If you answered “no” to more than one of these questions, then it’s time to reassess your strategy and make a few changes to your dairy’s workplace environment.

Drawn-out explanation

Want to learn more about what drives people? Check out this excellent 10-minute animated video from a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that provides interesting insight on motivation. Watch it a couple of times to get the full effect.

Watch the video at: http://tinyurl.com/32sjklb