Friday DairyExec: Leadership in busy times

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You are likely in the midst of the spring busy season. You surely are prepared for this busy period.  You are likely looking forward to focusing on being out in the field rather than leading and managing.

I understand and support your desire to be a doer – to do what you love! You must, however, maintain leadership as your top priority, even in busy times! That defines our topic for the month: what are your leadership responsibilities in busy times?  We focus on three.

 

Organization

When you stop doing, you lose one person; when you stop organizing, you lose the work or reduce the efficiency of everyone.

Let me share a personal example.  A couple years ago I volunteer to help setup on the morning of the big community event in the little city of Lauderdale where we live.  I arrived a little early and helped the organizer with a couple tasks.  He then left to get the some needed supplies.

Momentarily, the other volunteers arrived, and we stood around chatting. Soon everyone was complaining and very frustrated.  We volunteered to help, but we each had better things to do than stand around waiting for directions.  We did finally complete the setup, but I don't think anyone left with a sense of accomplishment.

Your employees have waited all winter to get out in the field or out on the golf course. They are excited!  They are likely willing to work extra hours if needed.  Like my volunteers they also have other things they could be doing – family, children's sports, fishing, golf, etc.

To maintain their initial level of excitement, they will require a sense of continuing accomplishment, not frustration from unclear plans, expectations or directions.

Before you join in the work, make certain that you are thinking several steps ahead, making plans for those next steps, and communicating those plans to everyone.  Just as you have a system for your spring work, you need a system for communicating with the workforce.

The system should include the combination of short operational meetings and verbal/text communications that best fit your operation.  If everyone starts at the same time in a central location, a short morning meeting will save time in the end.

When a short daily operational meeting is not feasible, I recommend a weekly meeting, perhaps Monday morning, followed by daily updates at a set time – late in the day or first thing in the morning.  A standard time enables others to know what to expect.

In all cases, there will be many updates as you call audibles to the plans you have laid out. These also require clear and frequent communication.

Returning to my volunteer experience, the next year I volunteered to be the onsite coordinator for the setup.  I met with the organizer the day before to understand what needed to be done.  Although fewer volunteers showed up (I wonder why?), the setup was completed in about half the time.  As far as I could tell, each volunteer went home with a feeling of accomplishment.

Remember that your first priority, as the leader, must be thinking and planning two or three steps ahead of what is actually being done right now!

 

Clarity

As you communicate plans and expectations, clarify – I call it "chalking the field" – is paramount.  During busy periods everyone is in a hurry, often stressed, and sometimes exhausted.  Each of these increases the likelihood of a communication failure; that what you said is not remembered completely or correctly.

Here are a couple ideas to ensure clarity of communications:

•   Whenever possible, especially when the communication includes numbers or directions, have the details written down so you can leave a copy for later reference.  When employees are unsure about details, they are much more comfortable looking at the reference than calling you.

•   When communicating verbally, ask employees to take notes.  Not only does taking notes provide a reference, it greatly increases retention.  Everyone should always have access to a place to take notes; it can be a mobile device or simply a small notebook.

•   When communicating specifics – directions, quantities, locations, etc. – the less you rely on memory, the fewer the problems.

•   As always with "chalking the field," explaining why increases both acceptance and retention?

Taking a little extra time to be clear will reduce mistakes, lessen frustration, and ultimately save time.

 

Perceptiveness and empathy

As the leader, you need to continually take the emotional "temperature" of your dedicated workforce.  Your employees will likely work harder and longer than is good for their emotional or physical health. 

Here are some ideas and things to look for:

•   Look for telltale signs that emotional stress is growing: easily frustrated, quick to get angry, reduced enthusiasm, anything that is out of character.  When these signs appear, the person needs a pick-me-up: a break, a task change or encouragement.

•   Look for the telltale signs of physical stress: any of the above emotional signs, increased frequency of errors, moving more slowly, resistance to directions, lethargy.  You need to move quickly to ensure that this person gets some rest.  At this point, the person in an accident waiting to happen.

•   Make certain people have sufficient short breaks.  Machines need refueling and routine maintenance; people need breaks to refresh and replenish.  The research is clear that after 3-4 hours at a repetitive task, productivity has declined such that a adding a break will results in more total work than continuing with the task.

•   Encouragement and feedback are just as important in busy times. The format likely will be quick and informal.

A concluding note

The good news is that the above responsibilities should not require all of your time.  They so need to be your first priority.

 

Reprinted from LearningEdge Monthly, produced by Dr. Bob Milligan, Senior Consultant, Dairy Strategies, LLC and Professor Emeritus, Cornell University. Contact him via phone: 651-647-0495 or email: rmilligan@trsmith.com



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