A best-selling book on business management, “The One Minute Manager,” gets right to the heart of workplace problems, including the motivation of seemingly unmotivated workers. 

For instance, a manager went bowling one night and saw one of his “problem” employees get all excited about making a strike. Maybe, the manager realized, the employee would get just as excited at work if he knew what “pins to knock down.” 

Do you make it clear to your employees what is expected of them? Do you make it clear what “pins” they can knock down? Do you provide them with feedback? Although you can’t duplicate the sound of pins crashing in a bowling alley, you can set up a system that just as surely rewards them for a job well done.

Use parlor-information systems to further motivate milkers to achieve production and milk-quality goals. 

Provide feedback 
Face it, working an eight-hour milking shift can be rather tedious unless something is done to make it challenging and fun.

That’s why feedback is so important. Just as the bowler enjoys hearing pins crash and seeing pins fly, the milker enjoys knowing if the cows flow through the parlor in an efficient manner or if the quality of milk improves over time.

In most cases, workers are eager to know how they are doing, points out Richard Stup, human resource specialist at Penn State University. “If we don’t give them feedback, how can they know if they are doing a good job or not?”

Stup says feedback can be an effective motivator, as long it meets these six characteristics:

  • Specific.
  • Relevant.
  • Credible.
  • Frequent.
  • Timely.
  • Linked to a source of help.

 Parlor-information systems meet all six of these criteria.

Put it into action
Don Niles, managing partner at the 1,560-cow Dairy Dreams facility in Casco, Wis., has built an incentive-based feedback system that mirrors these six points of effective feedback.

At the end of each milking shift, milkers pull off pertinent information from a printer in Niles’ office. Then, they post the numbers in a hallway. Every few days, Niles comes along and highlights the numbers with color highlighter pens — green is good, yellow is medium and red is poor.

In addition, the milkers are eligible for incentive pay based on somatic cell counts and peak milk flows:

  • If average somatic cell counts for a pay period range between 175,000 and 225,000, each milker receives a 15 cent-per-hour bonus. Counts between 125,000 to 175,000 earn a 40-cent-per-hour bonus, and the bonus increases to 65 cents per hour if the count falls below 125,000.
  • Niles wants each milking crew to achieve milk flows of 6.5 pounds or more per minute (calculated off of the actual milk flows that take place between 30 seconds of unit on-time and 60 seconds of unit on-time). If a crew achieves this for each milking shift in the pay period, it receives a 10-cent-per-hour bonus. But, if a crew should fall below 6 pounds per minute for any milking shift in the pay period, it is docked 10 cents per hour.

Niles says he emphasizes milk flows during the 30-second-to-60-second “ramp-up” stage because it’s indicative of how well the milkers are prepping cows and stimulating milk letdown. Good letdown also means less wear-and-tear on the teats. “You don’t want a unit putting vacuum on a teat that is not ready to be milked,” he says.

“The biggest way we can impact (milk flow) is to have proper and aggressive teat-end stimulation by the milkers,” he adds.  

Positive reaction
Worker reaction to the incentive program has been positive, Niles says. Workers are definitely watching the somatic cell count; in fact, they will often stop by Niles’ office and explain to him why the counts may or may not be high on a particular shift.

The key to the bonus system is its simplicity, Niles adds.

An incentive plan like Niles’ gives the workers frequent, specific and relevant feedback throughout the entire process. It’s a good example of what can be done with the electronic parlor-information systems to improve milk quality.

Provide credible and specific feedback

a dairy in pennsylvania learned first-hand the importance of clear and unambiguous feedback.

Since there was a filter sock at the end of the milking line, the milkers figured the sock would catch any dirt they had failed to remove from the cows’ teats. Their paradigm was that clean milk at the end of the line equated to milk quality. What they failed to realize — or the owner had failed to explain — was the importance of clean teats from an udder-health standpoint.

“Once they understood that, their performance went up,” says Richard Stup, human resource specialist at Penn State University. “It was like a lightbulb going on once they understood that connection.”