Working toward balanced targets

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Every employee should be working toward specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) - that is what Michigan State University Extension dairy educators have been telling herd owners and managers. But is it as simple as that?

One of the potential problems with setting a level that employees need to achieve is that one may reach the objective by means that are detrimental. For instance, if milkers on a dairy farm have only to meet a somatic cell count (SCC) goal, maybe they meet it by dumping milk from high count cows and leaving them in the herd for the next shift. Yes, it looks good for that crew on paper, but it really doesn’t achieve what is best.

That is why a balanced set of standards works better than a single standard. Lets look at a sports example to illustrate. In the 2012 season Miguel Cabrera, third baseman for the Detroit Tigers achieved the Triple Crown, a premier batting title. The Triple Crown is awarded to the player who completes the season with the highest number of home runs, runs batted in (RBI) and highest battling average. It is a rare achievement but signifies that the winner is a well-rounded batting champ.

Leading in any one of those categories would be really good, but not great. Someone could be a home run leader but fail when there are men on base and therefore not have the highest number of RBI’s. Or someone could hit a lot of home runs but strike out more times than not and have a low batting average. Even for those batters who will never achieve the Triple Crown, we want balance.

Balance means that you achieve high standards without falling way short in others or at the expense of others. Balance is important for all farm employees and therefore, it should also be important in how we measure their performance.

Think in terms of three measures, or three KPI’s, for every job on the farm. It may be that we measure milkers by speed of milking, SCC and cleanliness of teat end swabs, or that we measure speed, SCC and percentage of cows that are milked into the tank. Having a trio of measures helps to balance the performance priorities of the employees.

In the calving pen, maybe the KPI’s are a stillborn (to 24 hours after birth) rate less than 5 percent, 80 percent of calves 2-7 days old with serum total protein levels of 5.2 g/dL or higher, and 100 percent of calves with navel dipped by two hours after birth. These KPI’s hold employees accountable for how they assist with calvings and newborns, their colostrum feeding practices and their navel care. The numbers are fairly easily checked with the records. Blood needs to be drawn for serum total protein levels. Employees could write the time they performed task such as dipping navels on a log sheet and sign it.

Select levels for KPI’s that are achievable. Select a combination of KPI’s that measure critical outcomes. Select KPI’s that are measureable. Then train employees on what it takes to reach those levels and provide them regular feedback on their performance relative to those levels.

Think of the potential strength of an operation where all the employees could name the three KPI’s that they strive to achieve in their area on the farm. Employees want to know how they are doing. Establishing a balance of KPI’s for each area on the farm tells employees what success looks like in their area and helps to rein in the tendency to take shortcuts.

Be alert for unintended consequences of establishing performance measures and rebalance your KPI’s when necessary. A trio of KPI’s can help all of our employees become champs that clearly prove their worth to the operation!


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