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Most read articles
|1006 PD: Assessing critical labor process issues during dairy expansions|
|Archives - Past Articles|
|Monday, 02 October 2006 11:15|
The following is the last of a three-part series which discusses labor issues for the progressive dairy.
Conflict can be functional or dysfunctional. Functionally, it can prevent stagnation, increase interest, stimulate curiosity and serve as a means to air and solve problems collaboratively. It can be the antidote for “group think” and blind conformity. On the negative side, it can also alienate, create dissonance, resentment and stress, be destructive, increase turnover and decrease productivity and profitability.
Conflict generally progresses through four stages. First is the presence of conditions that create the opportunity for conflict to arise. Poor communication, conflicting personalities or poor structures may predispose a situation to be conflictive. Next is the recognition and personalization of the feeling of conflict within a person. Third is the behavioral response. At this point, the conflict is out in the open.
The consequence of the approach, methodology and strategy taken during the third stage results in the last stage, a functional or dysfunctional outcome. During the behavioral response we have the greatest potential to intervene and align the outcome in a positive manner.
Behavioral responses are generally manifested five ways:
With competition, one party generally tries to dominate, and an I-win-you-lose atmosphere predominates. It generally is not an effective strategy, as it often alienates the other party. It may be indicated in situations where quick, decisive action is needed or where an unpopular decision needs to be made.
Collaboration fosters a win-win solution for both parties. It is an integrative approach where both parties, through reciprocal understanding and respect, come up with a mutually beneficial solution. It can require considerable effort and time.
Avoidance is where a party withdrawals or suppresses the conflict. Avoidance can be positive or negative. Negative results will occur when a person suppresses animosities they have strong feelings about. This can lead to resentments, outbursts and deteriorating relationships. Positively, avoidance can be used when the issues are trivial, when the issue potentially subordinates the greater organizational objective, when others may handle the conflict more effectively or when a cooling-off period is required.
Accommodation is when one party seeks to appease the situation. In order to maintain the relationship, one party is willing to be self-sacrificing. In the long-term, this may lead to resentments. Accommodations may be sought when you realize you are wrong, want to express reasonableness, build social credits for later issues or when the issues are more important to others than yourself.
Lastly, a compromise is when each party must give in and give up something for the outcome. It is used when the goals are important, but not worth the effort of collaboration, when equal parties seek mutually exclusive goals or when quick temporary settlements, generally under time constraints, are desired.
It takes skill, effort and commitment to successfully navigate through conflict resolutions. The tyranny of short-term relief over the long-term goal and solution will often create dissonance. We are generally our own worst enemies when unsuccessfully dealing with conflict. Our first enemy is needing to explain our side and justify our position. Second is our ineffectiveness as a listener. Being quiet until we have a chance to speak is not effective listening. Third, the false assumption we have that the only way to win is if the other person loses. Fourth is fear – fear of not getting our way, fear of looking foolish, fear of the truth.
Two key features are usually present when successfully communicating during conflict. The first is empathetic listening. Seek to understand and then to be understood. It is listening inside another’s frame of reference. People want to be understood and validated. As you listen with a sincere desire to understand, you can be influenced, and that is the key to influencing others.
The second feature is focusing on your needs rather than your position. A position states the problem as an absolute, “This is what I want.” A need describes the desired end, “This is why I want it.” There are many possible ways to fulfill a need. When we focus on needs, we find we have more in common than we originally thought.
Often times an owner or manager will find himself or herself in the middle of a conflict. At those times, they find themselves in the position of a mediator. A mediator moderates, listens and helps the two parties find their own solution. Contrast this with an arbitrator, who makes judgments in favor of one side or another. A mediator’s role is to assist by listening to the parties, setting ground rules for the conflict and coaching the participants towards an equitable resolve.
The business culture affects the perception of conflict within an organization. Again, it is up to the owners and managers to set the tone with conflict management.
Discipline, termination and turnover
Conversely, effective disciplinary measures can motivate employees by creating an environment where workers take ownership of the problem and the responsibility for its resolve. To be effective, disciplinary measures should follow basic arbitrators’ rules:
1. Develop fair rules and consequences.
Confidentiality is a must. Employees must trust you will not discuss the matter except with those on a need-to-know basis. Always allow the employee to explain their side of the issue first. Keep an open mind. Employing effective listening skills will help you from forming an opinion before the evidence has been provided.
The more serious the offense, the more proof needed to seriously reprimand an employee. Often false accusations occur. Focus on the action and the behavior, not on the person. If the incident is serious enough to require documentation, it is serious enough to take official disciplinary action. Formal documentation should:
1. Be specific about the offense
If the offense is serious enough to merit termination, do it in a private setting, preferably early in the day and early in the week. If proper communication concerning the job expectations and disciplinary measures are followed, the firing should come as no surprise. The employee should be informed why they are being terminated in a calm, understanding manner. This is not the time to dwell on the reasons, blame or recount every incident. Try to avoid being too vague when explaining why they are fired and talking too much because of the awkwardness of the situation.
Excessive turnover is usually a symptom of other problems, usually unsatisfactory work or working conditions. Billikopf performed a study to determine the reason workers left dairies. Reasons associated with compensation and benefits accounted for the greatest cause of turnover. Holding exit interviews can help identify specific reasons for leaving and may shed some light on problem areas. Conducting formal or informal satisfaction surveys with your current employees can substantiate these findings.
Your dairy reflects your personality. This is essentially your business culture. Nothing is hidden. Everything is out in the open for all that care to see including your flaws, your strengths, your weaknesses. All are generally obvious, except to you. This is your blind self, that part of you that is so obvious to everyone, except you. Stand back. Do you like what you see? What kind of people work there? What does the place look like? Would you want to work in a place like that? What kind of a boss are you? Are you respected, admired, despised, hated? Do you even care? Do you care about your people?
Expanding the business first necessitates some difficult introspective analysis and expanding your mind. An honest evaluation of whether or not you can manage people is necessary. Why are you doing what you are doing? To be in charge? What are your priorities, your goals and your aspirations? They are first a creation in your mind, and only then can they become reality. It can’t be done alone. Along the way are many other people who are also creating and manifesting their own dreams for a better life for themselves and their families. They will work very hard and be very dedicated if they feel appreciated and respected.
Some will have to be kept on a narrower path. They will try to take advantage of the situation, shortcut or cheat. By establishing clear objectives and fair policies and through encouragement, many will understand that with hard work and honesty everyone can achieve mutual success.
Understanding your personal strengths and weakness is the only way to capitalize on your strengths and improve your weaknesses. Keeping a journal of your intentions not only allows you to track what happened a year later, but it forces you to think about it. Many people in this instant-results-and-gratification society don’t have the patience or persistence to follow through with a project like this. Farmers, by the sheer nature of their business (i.e., planting and waiting) may have the necessary patience to track their intentions and actions and develop a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses to aid themselves in support of their long-term goals.
I believe learning to speak Spanish is the most effective way to accurately communicate your message to your employees. When workers see you attempt to speak Spanish, they are more willing to attempt a little English. This is a win-win situation that can foster a climate of mutual trust, understanding and respect. This also allows you an opportunity to get to laugh with your employees and have a little fun with them as they get a chance to be the expert, and they see the human, informal side of your personality.
Even at smaller dairies, management should put together a labor plan. Determining all the steps in every phase of people management (hiring, training, appraisals and termination) will well be worth the effort and lead to far greater returns. Having the entire management team support the decisions once made, whether they personally agree whole-heartedly or not, is essential. I have seen several fundamentally sound programs undermined by a player on the management team. I believe that sentiment is easily apparent to the employees, and the programs are doomed to mediocrity or failure.
I am trying to limit the criteria in which I track each manageable area to five core indices or key drivers. This is very difficult for me, as I am constantly thinking of “new and improved” methods to monitor the different sectors of the dairy. Ideally, they need to be comprehensive, quick to calculate and leading indicators of potential problems. Too many criteria can lead to data overload and inaccurate or misleading conclusions or no conclusions at all.
Almost every dairy has people stopping by frequently looking for a job. Is this due to the overabundance of workers, or the inability of dairies to adequately train and retain good employees? I believe there are many highly qualified people out there looking for work at these dairies. Our process should go beyond a simple application, interview and “here is your job”. Critically evaluating the applicants will increase the odds of finding qualified candidates. Putting them through some work simulation trials should also help narrow the field.
Once we hire someone, we must adequately train him or her. Having experience is one thing; performing up to our standards is another. We must establish comprehensive training seminars. The learning should never end. We must continually review and coach to reinforce those behaviors we deem appropriate. Initial training seminars should be followed by a written summary of the protocols, procedures and safety issues for the job to be initialed by the employee that he or she fully understands the instructions, requirements and safety issues necessary to satisfactorily perform the job. This is especially important in areas that may pertain to jobs with higher risk.
I believe all employees want to know what their boss thinks of their work, good or bad. Formal assessments give everyone an opportunity to relay their views at the dairy. Properly performed, it can be like having 25 pairs of eyes constantly looking around to evaluate and look for better ways to do things. It can give everyone an opportunity for feedback. Performance measures may be difficult to come up with. Ask the employees for their input.
I think pay for performance incentives are a missing key ingredient for most dairies. None of the systems are foolproof, and it may take several attempts and several months until a good reliable set of measures is found. I think this is an area where ideas from other farms may be directly exported for use. I believe they cannot be penalizing, only encouraging. Retrospective analysis and forecasting potential cost benefits is critical. It may also be advantageous to ask workers to contribute ideas for the performance measures. Do not get discouraged.
Conflict management is one of the hardest things we face. It’s easy to get defensive when someone challenges your thoughts or actions, believing it is you being attacked. It is something I constantly work on. I believe this is the space between our thoughts and our actions. The objective in sport is to minimize that time in order to make it an instant reaction. The objective in human interaction is to adequately control that time. In your mind, role-play different scenarios out. Determine the specific objective in this particular situation. Construct an answer or solution or action congruent with your values and overall objectives.
Maximize your potential by controlling your response-ability. Understand this is a two-way street. Your employees often feel the same way. Remember this, and defuse the situation when engaging in disciplinary measures with your employees.
You may believe I am a proponent of a “kinder, gentler” work environment, where the fox guards the henhouse or the inmates run the jail. This is not necessarily true. I believe in a commodity-based business, like a dairy, in which owners are limited to what they can do to differentiate themselves from their competitor, the only way to improve profitability is to increase production or decrease costs. Strict financial performance measures must be rigorously upheld.
Let the employees know what the finances are in their area of responsibility. Give them goals and the means to achieve them. Set them up to succeed.
I believe it is reaffirming to people to be held accountable and to be given boundaries. You can smile quietly as they proudly say, “Look how good we are. We did it ourselves.” PD
References omitted due to space but are available upon request.
—From Kansas State University Ag Manager website
Matthew E. Jones, DVM