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Culture assessments: How to gain an accurate appraisal

Contributed by Monty Miller and Neil Michael Published on 08 February 2016

Note: This is the fourth article in a five-part series for Progressive Dairyman about dairy culture.

Conducting a meaningful culture assessment takes time, focus and a sincere commitment to learn and grow – by dairy producers and dairy employees.

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A half-hearted attempt by either party results in a less-than-optimal outcome and may even damage the culture currently in place.

That noted, this exercise has the potential to help an operation make incredible strides in improving how the work gets done while encouraging personal and professional growth.

The point of conducting the survey and completing the program is to learn how your dairy’s culture is perceived, what the ideal culture will be and, most importantly, to create a dialogue between employees and management for achieving the desired culture.

Most people aspire to work in a constructive culture which creates the greatest levels of employee satisfaction and will likely lead, over time, to better employee retention and recruiting. You can achieve a constructive culture on your operation provided you foster the drive and commitment to help make it happen.

What’s involved?

The assessment that’s been described in this article series can be daunting when taken in its entirety. But as participants have learned, when you break it down into steps it becomes much more manageable, especially when the potential rewards are considered.

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Here’s a short summary of the process to better understand the commitment required of leadership:

  • Conference call to understand process and set expectations

  • Identify 10 to 15 people on your farm to take the survey

  • Brief these individuals on the purpose of the surveys and time required of them

  • Receive the OCI current survey link and provide it to participants (two weeks allowed to complete survey)

  • Receive the ideal survey link and provide it to your participants (two weeks allowed to complete survey)

  • Communicate with participants during survey periods to encourage completion

  • Meet with facilitator to debrief results

  • Share results with participants and discuss survey results

  • Start process to create the ideal culture

It takes varying amounts of time to accomplish each of these components, yet each is critical to successfully create the desired culture on your operation.

Who should participate from a farm?

The most successful outcomes arise when a dairy includes a representative cross-sample of people to participate – from employees throughout the dairy and cropping organization to owners and office personnel, as applicable.

It’s recommended that the owner complete both current and ideal surveys, then ask 10 or more employees to complete both surveys.

Ideally, participants will be people employed by the dairy for at least a year who are committed to the dairy and whose perspectives you value and respect. These participants may be family members if they are active on the dairy.

Can they be consultants like your nutritionist and veterinarian? Yes, but only if they frequently work on the dairy.

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Keep in mind that the most helpful information will come from employees who are deep into the day-to-day operations on your dairy.

The survey is available in English and Spanish. Participants need to be able to read and comprehend 150 questions and provide their responses on a computer-based survey tool.

They also need to be available for two different time periods: first to take the current survey and second to take the ideal survey.

Survey explanations

Getting your team members comfortable with the concept of taking the survey is the most important step in the process. Based on experience, it’s suggested you share this seven-step explanation with participating employees:

  1. We are preparing to do a survey on our dairy’s culture; a culture is how we do our work every day.

  2. You have been selected to do the survey because we respect your point of view and opinions.

  3. We want you to be honest and candid in your answers as we want to enhance how we get work done and create satisfaction in the process.

  4. There is absolutely no way we can determine the answers you give on the survey, and the confidentiality of all participants is protected. No reports are generated without a minimum of three participants. It is very safe, and there will be no negative ramifications.

  5. When we get the survey information back, we will share the results, discuss what they mean and discuss how we can make our culture better.

  6. By enhancing our culture, we will be happier working together, we will produce more high-quality milk, and we will attract and retain the best employees.

  7. Then ask: Are you interested in doing the survey?

The process

Once you have buy-in by everyone involved, the process is pretty straightforward.

  • Participants are provided with a computer link to the two surveys. The surveys will be conducted about two weeks apart.

  • Participants will need about one hour to take the current survey.

  • Two weeks later, participants will take the ideal survey. It will take less time – about 45 minutes.

Experience has shown that with Spanish-speaking employees it is easier to conduct the surveys as a group, with each participant at individual computers where they can ask each other for interpretations of some of the questions.

They will sometimes find the meaning of phrases like “rock the boat” challenging. It is also good to have an interpreter available to help address questions.

Once the survey results have been tabulated, the results are then shared with dairy leadership and the participants. It is this dialogue that helps the dairy address its culture, reinforce the positive and address potential adaptations needed to move the culture forward.  PD

Monty Miller is the owner of International Performance Solutions, a consulting practice that engages in training, development and organizational change. Neil Michael is global tech services manager with Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition.

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

The first article (Your dairy's culture is more than yogurt or opera) discussed the definition of cultures and implications of culture on dairy farms.

The second article (The measure of a dairy's culture) discussed data collected for 28 dairies and more than 450 participants using the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI) results and the desire of all participants to create more constructive cultures and reduce defensive behaviors.

The third article (Move culture in a positive direction) shared learnings from two dairies leveraging their OCI results, methods and outcomes.

The fifth article (Case study: Culture in action during a tractor fire) helps us see what training and organization can do.

Click here to read about the function of role clarity and the 'why' to reduce confusion. 

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