Many people who work with cows on a daily basis have a solid understanding of cow behavior.  Cows are fairly predictable.

What about the people you work with?

Today, dairies of all sizes depend on teams of people who work together to accomplish the tasks necessary to make the farm profitable.  Unquestionably, the “personality” of each dairy strongly influences the management system of that farm.  However, over and over, I see a few common themes that improve the long-term vitality of dairy businesses.

Hire the right people
Managers with clear objectives for the team know what qualities they require for new hires and assignments on the team.  With clear expectations, it becomes much easier to find the right person and then communicate those expectations to that person.

I recommend using a probationary period for new hires.  When using this policy, be clear of the pay scale and length of time of the probationary period before the employee even fills out the proper paperwork.  Identify trusted teammates to objectively assess new hires; this gives them a stake in the training and success of new members of the team.

Develop and focus on employee strengths
Assign tasks and projects based on the strengths of the people on your team and discuss those strengths in performance conversations.  Avoid focusing on weaknesses; we all have them and it does little good to be constantly reminded of where we fall short.  If all teammates understand the concept of recognizing and building upon strengths, the culture of focusing on the positive rather than the negative will have far-reaching effects on the dairy.

Hold yourself and your staff accountable
Managers of teams on dairies need to understand how important their roles are.  They must know and accept the fact that they are accountable and have an obligation to their employees.  They must provide clear expectations, proper training and the tools necessary to do the job.

Owners and managers must hold themselves to a high standard if they expect their employees to meet the high standards required on today’s dairies.  Candid feedback is not something that comes easy for most people, but it is essential for managers to be effective.  The sooner employees know they will have expectations that are consistent, fair and constant, the sooner they will feel they are obligated to follow through with the relationship they have with management.

Great cows start with great people
Employee safety and wellbeing, environmental stewardship, and responsible animal care are all part of the equation in having a successful dairy today.  Having a culture of accountability on your dairy – fueled by working in teams with top people who have the ability to provide input and who know their opinions are valued – will produce benefits beyond just profitability.