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1106 PD: Control the factors that influence employee success

Richard Stup Published on 10 November 2006

It is extremely important that agricultural workers have the proper knowledge, skills and attitudes to perform well in their jobs. Knowledge, skills and attitudes are the internal competencies that workers bring with them to the job or that they must learn through training. They are not, however, the only factors that go into success at getting the job done. Furthermore, they are the most difficult performance factors for a manager to change.

Factors that are external to the worker (such as the environment, standard operating procedures [SOPs], equipment and management’s own behaviors) can have a big influence on how well workers perform in a job. Perhaps most importantly, managers can directly change and improve most of the external factors much more easily than the worker’s internal competencies.



A good manager of human resources strives to create conditions that are most likely to encourage excellent performance. This [article] describes eight factors that help to determine employee performance. The first seven are under the direct control of management, so it makes sense to ensure that they are consciously designed to support and encourage great performance.

Physical work environment
Is the environment where this job is completed suitable for human beings to work in? This may seem like a basic question, but it is too often left unanswered. Lighting, ventilation and temperature are all factors that can have an impact on how well people perform.

Consider the example of a poorly lit milking parlor. In such a situation, milkers will find it difficult to perform well because of poor visibility. Upgrading the lighting in the parlor might have positive effects on performance that can lead to benefits such as better milk quality, improved morale and lower employee turnover.

In many cases environmental factors can be easily controlled with minimal investment. In such cases it is an extremely good investment to make changes to the physical environment so that people are more comfortable, safer, happier and performing at a higher level.

In other circumstances, the investment needed to alter the environment might be too high, or production requirements might require the environment to be uncomfortable for humans. In these circumstances, it is up to management to make conditions as comfortable as possible within the limitations. Conditions, for example, may necessarily be too hot for human comfort. There is no reason, however, why management cannot ensure adequate drinking water is available at all times for workers.


Producers in northern climates may find that their employees from more southern countries do not know how to deal with cold weather conditions. The employer can help them deal with this problem by introducing them to clothing and protective gear for winter weather.

Evaluate working conditions for each job in your business. Are there improvement opportunities that may encourage better performance?

Asking employees to perform at a high level without adequate equipment is a sure formula for failure. Even though it might be possible to “make do” with the equipment available, that is often not the best option. An employer needs to consider the possibility that equipment is limiting performance because it is too old, worn out, the wrong size or otherwise inadequate for the job. In such a situation, no amount of employee training or motivation will lead to the desired performance. Weigh the cost of replacing equipment against the value of improved performance.

There are also safety and employee morale issues to consider with regard to equipment. Inadequate equipment is often a safety problem as workers try to compensate for equipment shortcomings with increased speed or sloppy work. These behaviors can result in injuries or accidents that might cost more than replacing equipment.

Finally, people who feel constantly frustrated by their tools and equipment are not likely to be satisfied in their work. Frustration leads easily to poor morale and higher turnover.

Evaluate the tools and equipment available. Are they adequate for the work? Can your employees effectively and safely get the job done while working at a reasonable speed?


Meaningful work
People need to feel their work is meaningful and valuable. For some people this need drives them to seek work that is creative; for others, it just means that they want to know why their work is important and how it contributes to a greater accomplishment. In any case, information about the purpose of one’s work is a powerful contributor to internal motivation.

Every business, especially those employing nonfamily workers, should have a mission statement. A mission statement clarifies the reasons why a business exists and the values that are important to management. The mission is vitally important for employees to know and understand so they can better contribute with their work to the mission’s fulfillment.

Understanding the mission helps an employee feel he is part of an organization that contributes positively to society at large. This understanding helps unleash workers’ positive internal motivation.

On a more specific level, workers need to be aware of goals and objectives in their particular job area. Most managers mentally form specific goals for each part of their business. Sharing this information with employees can lead to more consistent accomplishment of production goals. For example, milkers who are aware of milk quality goals and understand how their work contributes to accomplishing the goals will tend to work toward accomplishing the goals.

The key here is to make sure every worker is aware of critical parts of his or her job that will have an important influence on the production goal, the finished product and the overall success of the business. Clear production goals give workers a target to strive for. They add interest and meaning to work, much like keeping score adds interest to sports.

Are your employees internally motivated to accomplish the worthwhile mission of your business? Do they know specific production goals for their work area?

Performance expectations
Performance expectations provide standards for the everyday performance of tasks. They specify at what level or rate workers should complete tasks in order to be on track for achieving longer term production goals. Performance expectations need not be formally placed in writing, but managers must make sure that everyone knows the expectations.

A dairy worker assuming new responsibilities for calf care needs to understand performance expectations related to when calves should be fed, how much they should be fed, how often they should be bedded, what to do when a sick calf is discovered and various other matters. Once again, if these expectations are not formally provided in writing, then it is the manager’s responsibility to make sure that the employee has heard and understood the level of performance expected.

Consider each task in your operation. Are the performance expectations made clear? Will your Hispanic employees know what it looks like when they have done a good job?

Feedback on performance
Performance feedback is the guide that workers use to adjust their work behavior. Imagine yourself driving a car on a clear weather day. Think about how you use your eyes to detect the location of the road and other objects around you. Your eyes gather performance feedback about how the car is operating and allow you to effectively adjust the position of the steering wheel and the accelerator.

Now imagine that you are driving your car in heavy fog conditions. Your eyes’ ability to gather effective feedback about the road and other objects is greatly diminished. As a result, you cannot safely drive the car as quickly as you might on a clear day and your likelihood of having an accident is greatly increased. Your level of stress and frustration also increases when driving in heavy fog conditions.

Working at a job without adequate performance feedback is like driving in a fog. It is difficult to see where you are going, so you can’t effectively adjust your actions for best results. You are much more likely to run into “accidents” such as performance failures. Finally, you are subject to stress and frustration that comes from fear and uncertainty.

A supervisor’s most important job is to make sure that employees receive a regular flow of feedback information about their performance. With an average worker, this feedback should be predominantly positive in nature. Positive feedback encourages and reinforces good behaviors and leads people to continually improve performance.

Negative feedback serves as a warning sign that unwanted consequences will result from poor behaviors. This negative feedback should be accompanied by coaching that will help the worker improve specific actions so he or she can increase working speed.

Evaluate the job that you would like your Hispanic workers to move into. How is information about performance gathered and fed back to the worker? Who is responsible for making sure this happens in a regular and timely fashion?

Rewards for performance
Positive and negative rewards for performance can have a powerful influence. Some employers use formal incentives to encourage good performance. Incentives can be very effective if they are properly managed.

One of the principles to keep in mind is that incentives are only effective for promoting performance that is within the worker’s control. Incentives based on performance that is really outside of a worker’s control can easily be frustrating and may become a disincentive.

While incentives are an obvious reward, other kinds of rewards are more subtle. As dairy herds grow larger and begin using milking facilities close to 24 hours per day, it becomes increasingly important that a tight schedule be followed.

Dairy producers have had some interesting experiences as they strive to adjust the rewards received by their milking crews under different strategies. One producer attempted to control wages paid to the milkers by offering a per-milking rate. Each milking shift would receive X dollars regardless of how long it took to milk.

The producer was at first pleased to see that milking shifts became significantly shorter under this arrangement. Initial pleasure quickly turned to alarm when actual milk production also declined. Because workers received the same rate per milking shift, they were quite happy to speed through milking and finish in less time so that they could go home. This rewarded milkers for milking quickly, and cutting corners took effect.

Another dairy producer employed a group of workers to milk only. This was satisfactory when they were milking a lot of cows and the milkers could get the number of hours per week they needed. Unfortunately, there were times of the year when the dairy farm didn’t have as many cows in milk. Somehow, however, it always took just as long to milk 400 cows as it did to milk 450 cows.

If milkers had continued to work at a consistent rate, then the declining number of cows in milk would have resulted in a reduction in their hours and, thus, their weekly paychecks. The workers were able to slow their milking rate in order to avoid this negative reward.

It is wise to consider the rewards, both positive and negative, that an employee may receive from taking on a new job or responsibility. In some cases, the rewards may not be easy to recognize. When a producer attempts to promote an outstanding Hispanic worker into a supervisory role for example, that worker may be rewarded negatively with the loss of friendship and camaraderie that he previously enjoyed with his peers.

Consider the rewards for good and poor performance on the job. Do the rewards motivate people to move in the direction you desire? How can you adjust the reward structure?

Standard operating procedures (SOPs)
There is nothing more fundamental to successful performance than an accurate understanding of how best to complete the job. SOPs fulfill this critical requirement by documenting detailed steps and thereby promoting consistency and accountability for performance.

Managers bear the responsibility for ensuring that SOPs are available, accurate and understandable to the workers. In addition, managers must train workers in the proper use of the SOPs and follow up to ensure that all staff members are consistently following them.

Do clear SOPs exist for those jobs where consistency is critical? Do employees understand that SOPs exist to help them and that they should bring their ideas for procedure improvement to management’s attention?

Knowledge, skills and attitudes
Finally, when all other factors that influence performance are in order, we turn to the internal factors that employees bring to the job. Knowledge, skills and attitudes emerge from the combination of experience, training and education an employee brings to the job.

Knowledge is the relatively abstract information an individual needs to know in relation to the job at hand. For example, a dairy worker might need to know how to deal with a case of abnormal milk.

Skills are the more concrete capabilities that a worker must possess. Usually, skills involve some type of physical activity. Milkers on dairy farms must be able to quickly and efficiently use their hands to clean and prepare cows for milking. Equipment operators in many types of operations must possess manual skills to safely and efficiently operate moving equipment.

Attitudes are simply individuals dispositions toward a particular job. Dairy employees who do not possess the attitude that reproduction is important are not likely to take heat detection seriously.

Effective training can help workers get up to speed quickly with knowledge, skills and attitudes they need for the job right away. In the longer term, employee education can be used to develop workers for jobs they may hold in the future. Do you have a system for training employees in the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they will need? Can your Hispanic employees make use of this system?

When moving your Hispanic employees from one job to another within your agricultural business, training is not the only factor to consider. You can use training to change their knowledge, skills and attitudes, but training won’t influence the external performance factors. Consider all aspects of the job before moving your workers into the new role. Take advantage of the opportunity to make changes that will help your employees to be successful. PD

—From 2003 Managing a Hispanic Workforce Conference Proceedings

Richard Stup, Senior Extension Associate, Penn State Dairy Alliance