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Break up the fistfight before it begins: Benefits of training, SOPs and good management

Frankie Rodriguez for Progressive Dairyman Published on 10 October 2017

I received a call while stuck in the Cleveland, Ohio, airport from a farmer who was having some serious employee issues. He drove into his farm one afternoon to find two employees literally fist fighting in the parking lot.

At that point, the farmer had enough and called me to come out to his farm to give an unbiased assessment of the situation and help fix the rocky relations. How did his employees get to that point, and more importantly, how could he prevent it from escalating to a physical fight ever again? Let’s talk about a few ways to keep employee relations positive and under control.

Employee training

It’s important that every employee starts off on the right foot. Create a training program that every employee must go through to teach them the basics of the farm. Highlight the areas that are important to you, such as cleanliness, cow welfare, timeliness, etc. Give your employees the tools they need to succeed right off the bat. If everything is explained thoroughly from the start, you will reduce disagreements or misunderstandings on how certain things are to be done. Go over your employee handbook or rules and policies with every new employee as soon as possible. Continuously train all of your employees to refresh them on procedures and keep everyone on the same page.

Standard operating procedures

Having standard operating procedures (SOPs) is very important. You don’t need to have an SOP for every little task, but you should have thorough SOPs for your main tasks like milking, feeding, pushing/bedding, calf care, etc. An SOP details the step-by-step process of the job, kind of like an instruction manual, along with listing all of the tools and equipment needed. They can be as simple or in-depth as you like. If you have Spanish-speaking employees, have your SOPs translated so they can understand them. Also, consider adding pictures to the SOPs – the easier the SOP is to understand, the more compliance you will have.

Review your SOPs yearly – this gives you a chance to review your procedures and see if there are ways to improve. Don’t forget to ask your employees for their opinion. After all, they’re the ones doing these tasks every day, and they may have some ideas to help things run more smoothly and efficiently (and it boosts employee morale). Keep a copy of your SOPs in the office, but also have them available where each task is completed. Have the milking SOP available in the parlor, the calf care SOP in the calf barn, etc. SOPs are of no use if no one looks at them. Have every new employee read through the SOPs, and go through them step-by-step during your new employee training program.

Employee meetings

Sometimes you just need to talk it out. Getting your employees together for meetings on a regular basis gives everyone a chance to communicate and be on the same page. Use the meetings to discuss any issues so they can be taken care of immediately rather than fester and turn into fights. This is a great time to periodically go over the SOPs, especially when a new employee joins the team. Keep refreshing the process and why it’s important. Give everyone a chance to talk during the meetings, but keep personal issues to a minimum. If things get heated, tell the employees you can discuss it privately after the meeting. You want to keep the general meetings as positive as possible. Keeping everyone on the same page goes a long way to reducing disagreements between employees.

Not every employee will get along with each other all the time. It’s human nature. But taking proactive steps to reduce disagreements about job-related topics can go a long way and prevent a fistfight from breaking out on your farm.  end mark

Frankie Rodriguez is the co-founder of AgriStaff USA.

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