Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Lessons from dairymen on dealing with employees

Published on 21 September 2009

If you haven’t learned about our Crossover seminars, click over to El Lechero to read about the events.

During each one, I’ve learned new things about how dairy owners, herdsman and Latino employees train, interact, discipline and motivate. A Crossover seminar I moderated in July was particularly enlightening.



The topic of the seminar was “How to deal with difficult employees.” As dairy producers described their most difficult employees ever, I observed three consistent themes developing. Before pointing a finger at a specific employee or claiming a personality conflict, two things are vital, in my opinion, to successful dairy management.

1. Protocols and expectations
Producers who said they had problems with employees usually admitted that they had not written down standard operating procedures they and every other employee agreed to follow. Employees were more likely to be fired if this was not the case. For example, dairies that had lower calf mortality rates, clearly defined how soon maternity pen employees were to give colostrum to a newborn calve after calving.

These protocols were in writing. Like the 10 Commandments, protocols are the rules everyone follows on well-run dairies. You break them consistently, you lose your job. Dairy owners who said they weren’t completely happy with the performance of their workers admitted their protocols probably lacked detail. Dairies that kept track of metrics to define how well employees were achieving above and beyond the protocols also seemed to express less frustration. Tracking metrics showed employees what the boss expected beyond the basic rules. Dairies with metrics retained employees, and their workers were more motivated because they knew their standing and where they needed to improve.

2. Training/communication
Even with solid protocols, the best dairies in attendance at our seminar always had rock-solid training programs. Training on a dairy is a constant need. I observed that protocols help keep it consistent, but the best managers trained well and then followed up with communication. Employees on these dairies knew exactly when to call for help.

For example, one experienced Latino herdsman said he quickly learned the problems his night milking shift encountered. These problems were the ones they would call and wake him up about. He kept track of these and then trained the employees how to act on their own. The frequently occurring problems were added to the night milker training protocol. He said he received fewer calls after that. I observed that as training improved, so did communication. More communication by itself helped some but by itself it was only a band-aid. Training with solid protocols was the only true fix-all.


3. Good people
The trouble employees that seminar participants talked about consistently didn’t follow protocols. They were the ones who wanted to follow their previous dairys’ pre-milking protocol because it was faster. Or they were non-communicators. Often I observed they were good workers and got the job done, but they were difficult to manage because they wouldn’t stick with protocols, hold every employee to the same standard or kept the owner out of the loop.

Owners said that as difficult as it was to fire these productive employees, they were better off for having done so. They said their management was more productive with someone willing to follow protocols, train others about them and then track performance, retraining where necessary to help employees improve. We’ll be doing more Crossover seminars in 2010. If you would like to see one of them come to your area, please send me an e-mail or call. I welcome your suggested future locations for one of these dynamic seminars. PD