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3 steps to grow employees into loyal leaders

Shaun Hardtke for Progressive Dairy Published on 03 March 2021
parlor workers

Employees that don’t show up for their shifts. Constant turnover. Subpar compliance and performance. When it comes to dealing with labor challenges, the struggle is real.

As our dairies and our workforces grow and become more dynamic, it is important to create a culture that motivates and empowers our people and teams as a whole. The performance indicators to a fine-tuned system will show its results in not only our “cow metrics,” but in work compliance, higher employee retention and lower turnover.



Growth opportunities

As dairies grow, we come to certain points and growing pains in those phases as dynamics and work structures shift.  As an industry, we have pinpointed these sizes already anecdotally: there’s the 1,000-cow mark, the 2,500-cow mark and then the greater than 5,000 cow range.  All come with their different changes, challenges and benefits, but all are doable and manageable to overcome. 

Each time a dairy hits the next growth phase, it is helpful to take an in-depth look at the culture at hand to uncover opportunities for greater employee satisfaction, but also retain the balance of what is good for the business and the cows’ needs. Here are three steps to ease the pain that can come with growth, and to keep employees satisfied and showing up to put their best foot forward each day.

1. Clearly define roles

On dairies with less than 1,000 cows, employees are often cross-trained and pitch in as needed. With more cows and more people, unclear expectations of who does what can lead to confusion, frustration, incompletion, the details being forgotten or just downright getting done the wrong way. To overcome this, assign specific duties to employees according to time management and budgets. What may not have seemed like a duty that needed to be assigned previously because “it just happened without thinking about it,” now may need to be created and made into a formal duty. By assigning duties based on where certain team members need to be and what they need to be doing, this will help a structure work as efficiently as possible, down to the last detail. 

With clearly defined roles, there is no longer room for error, controversy or excuses. Cross-training can still work, as long as there is clarity of each employee’s specific daily responsibilities. Clear expectations keep a team focused on prioritizing their primary tasks, yet still gives the ability to move around and help out in other areas if needed. If nothing else, providing clearly defined roles at the end of the day will weed out the employees who may no longer need to be a part of the team. 

2. Empower team leaders

With growth, managers may have to adjust to a new set of duties that require less hands-on cows and more management-level decision-making. In order to create space to step into this new role, the manager must learn to delegate. One way to do this is by selecting team members to step up into team lead roles, such as being appointed the leader for the milking parlor or maternity pen. These individuals will need guidance, backup and support to step into their new duties successfully. Managers still must be present, yet careful not to overstep the team leaders or do their work for them. This can either build trust or break trust, and that has a top-down effect.


3. Motivate versus micromanage

When it comes to building a reliable team, start with hiring the right people, and let them do their job. Leadership qualities should be part of the official job description for our team leads as we move forward. While we encourage team leads to come to managers for advice, the manager should ultimately hold them accountable for figuring out their own solutions to an extent so that they may grow professionally. This instills a culture of both trust and achievement. Rather than being hands on in every aspect of a certain area (for example, a parlor team), the manager can now keep a close finger on the pulse with a culture of trust and be able to confirm that things are being done according to standards above and beyond key performance indicators. Relationship-building between manager and team lead is the key investment in creating that culture of trust. 

The results

What does this mean for a manager or farm owner? Peace of mind, less time wasted on nonproductive tasks and more hours in the day to devote toward delivering the highest standard of care for your cows, your land, your people and your community.  end mark

Shaun Hardtke is the director of milk quality and safety training with FutureCow.

PHOTO: Photo by Mike Dixon.