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How to make policy changes painless

Emilie Briggs for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 February 2017

2017 is a year of changes for the dairy industry. An upgraded Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program, activation of the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) use restrictions in a large part of the country and government policy changes will have numerous implications from the perspective of employee management.

Those who have experienced the operating level of work in a dairy would likely agree: A pointless, “make it work” policy is the worst kind of burden for an employee. How, then, can managers implement new regulations through competent on-farm policy that doesn’t destroy, but rather promotes, the culture of their organizations?

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Consider how a third party would define the culture of a farm or agriculture business. Culture is the fragile soul of an organization that grows through the individual attitudes and work practices by the organization. A good organizational culture is the path to sustaining a company’s most important resource: effective and satisfied people.

What kind of culture makes for satisfied people and an effective work flow necessary for a company’s success?

The answer can be a combination of ideas that focus on key outputs such as effective employee tools, a sense of belonging to a team and a feeling that each employee is an important part of the business.

Policy with a purpose

Poor policies are the fastest way to create chaos and conflicts of authority on the farm. Policy creation needs to start small and begin with a logical form of organization. Ineffective communication about existing or new polices may be one of the largest sources of discontent among staff.

Consider how announcements and new ideas are communicated on your farm, and how they are received by the staff based on the performance in adopting the change.

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Often, when there is a major change needed on the farm, a group meeting is helpful for multiple reasons:

  1. It allows a group discussion to determine where the starting point is for a proposed change in day-to-day activities. This will also allow the group to determine a plan of action in determining a timeline for how the policy will be adopted.

  2. Expectations can be clearly stated to everyone by the group leader. A clear statement can avoid future confusion when questions arise from other farm employees. This statement should cover employee expectations and points of contact for future questions.

  3. As a leader, it is important to create an environment where discussion regarding changes on the farm can be initiated. Discussion is important to ensure other managers and employees are heard and understood. It is important to note that this is a time for discussions, not complaining. Complaining is driven by frustration and can create a toxic attitude environment for other employees.

Simplicity is key

With any set of rules and policies, it is important to keep them simple and few in number. Policies cannot be upheld if they cannot be remembered. Many regulations initiated in 2017 require a written form for inspection. Although this seems to be a burden in many cases, a written copy of any farm policy can be a helpful tool for future employee reference and questions.

This written form does not need to be complex. A policy statement can cover the main focus of the change incorporated into the farm by creating a general mindset and goal among the employees and staff. When this goal is established, the change will naturally work its way into the culture of your organization.

Regularly review, remind, revise

Any form of policy becomes irrelevant if it is never revisited after establishment. At minimum, leaders should review policy on an annual basis, followed by a discussion with employees. The purpose of this discussion is to refresh and remind the group of the previous goals the policy intended to address.

Finally, any policy that seems outdated due to minor culture changes on the farm should be revised.

These methods can help create a healthy environment for communication among leadership and employees. When a positive attitude is taken toward business organization and structure, it makes the process painless and more open to discussion and praise when procedures are handled well.

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Creating and maintaining policies to provide structure and communication on the farm is not over-corporatizing or over-governing the group. Although this can be the result if the three steps above do not occur, we should understand that in our industry’s climate of change, we need to instill a strong and organized sense of leadership into our farms and organizations.  end mark

Emilie Briggs
  • Emilie Briggs

  • Head of Business Development
  • Central Wisconsin Ag Services

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