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Employee meetings: An underutilized tool?

Rod Wautlet and Bob Hagenow Published on 31 December 2013

Are you using one of the best tools available on a dairy farm to solve potential problems and move the business forward? Are we talking about a new product? Service? Technology? Not in this article.

Instead, we are focusing on a time-tested – and often underutilized – tool on the dairy: a properly run employee meeting.

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Some reasons to conduct an employee meeting include:

• Training on current and new topics

• Constructing protocol in a management area

• Setting team goals

• Monitoring progress on set goals and updating the team

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• Building team camaraderie

• Celebrating successes

And the list could go on.

But we contend the best reason to conduct ongoing employee meetings is to have that formal time for team members to communicate between each other, to understand the vision of the dairy and to have ownership in the success of the dairy.

This ultimately drives employee engagement, and every dairy has a better chance of success when its employees are fully engaged.

Research cited by leadership coach and expert Joe Tye shows that, in any business on any given day, 20 percent of employees are indeed actively engaged in their work, 60 percent are just putting in time, and most amazingly, 20 percent are actively disengaged.

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At times, this last group of employees may even be actively trying to sabotage the efforts of the business.

The same research also shows that huge gains in success and productivity can be achieved by creating more total employee engagement.

What employees want
A recent Gallup poll on what aspects are important in a career showed that employees want (in order of importance):

• Room for advancement

• Jobs that contribute to the overall mission of the business

• Clear feedback about their work

• Empowerment to make decisions

• Opportunity to use their skills to the fullest

Interestingly, fair or adequate compensation ranks below these items, coming in at No. 8.

So can you snap your fingers and automatically make employees more engaged in their work? If only it were so easy.

Building engaged teams
Developing fully engaged employees takes a lot of work and a very conscious and ongoing effort on the part of the leaders of the business. Admittedly, a great deal of driving employee engagement is hiring the right people.

But what about your current staff? How can we help them become more engaged?

One of the proven ways to drive engagement is to help people clearly understand the overall purpose or mission of a business and their roles in fulfilling this mission.

People generally want to be part of an organization that creates a solid work environment (culture) and to feel they are contributing. They also want to know their work is of value (as confirmed in the Gallup poll results).

Scheduling regular employee meetings is a great way to accomplish this, as they allow frequent and open communication between the leadership team and all employees.

Asking for and truly listening to employee input is a major way to build trust between employer and employee. This trust leads to the employee taking ownership of his or her responsibilities.

Sure, employee meetings will likely focus mainly on training or operational topics. In addition, it can make sense to regularly include updates on the overall mission, good things happening on the dairy (addresses culture and environment, which people want to be aware of), staff contributions in the community, etc.

It may also be wise to ask for input and observations from employees to improve productivity and create a friendlier work environment. One of the best meeting tasks is to challenge employees to share ideas they have for farm improvements.

It is amazing how many things have been brought forth, discussed and implemented over time from this agenda item. Generally, the items implemented from this discussion are successful because the team members are invested in the outcome and own the success of the process.

What about the employees who have good ideas but are reserved about sharing them in a public meeting setting? Keeping each employee’s strengths and communication preferences in mind is key to making team meetings successful.

One way to include these reserved employees is to have them submit a suggestion in writing to share. It can be anonymous if needed. The leader can then present this with the group at large and explore possible implementation.

This process provides a lot of comfort and trust for employees because it lets them know the goal is to improve the dairy; it’s not to fulfill an ulterior motive.

Little things implemented from these kinds of suggestions tend to make a big difference in the lives of employees and drive engagement to new levels. Trust among all employees is fundamental for successful employee engagement, and success builds more success.

Here is a recent story on a dairy that exemplifies this concept: The gates between pens and drover lanes on a dairy were hung opposite to how they should have been to help cow flow. It took at least two people and a lot of time to move cows when this should have been a quick, one-person task.

The employee in charge of cow moving suggested the gates be turned. Management listened and made the change by the next day. The employees’ attitude and engagement changed for the better right away.

You could see the difference in commitment immediately. Goodwill and trust on this team improved drastically, and other suggestions have been coming more readily from staff.

As always, all employee meetings should have a pre-published agenda, a set start and stop time, minimal interruptions, notes taken to log the discussion and a follow-up report distributed to the whole team, including those employees who may have not been able to attend the meeting.

Although they take time from the regular farm schedule, well-planned and facilitated meetings can be a valuable tool in your arsenal. They will help you take your employees to a new engagement level in 2014 and your business to a new level of success as a result. PD

Rod Wautlet is an agri-business consultant with Vita Plus Corp.

00_hagenow_bob

Bob Hagenow
Dairy Sales Manager
Vita Plus Corp.

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