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How to motivate change and train to retain

Miguel Morales Published on 03 February 2010

Productivity can be defined as the result of the worker’s ability (or “can do”) and the worker’s motivation (or “will do”).

Motivation is a term often overused in businesses – dairy operations, heifer growers and calf centers are no exception. Motivation can be described as the human force that stimulates a person to react in a particular way.



Intuitively, we know motivated employees result in superior job performance. We expect high productivity, and perhaps less job turnover, from a motivated workforce. We readily identify acute signs of poor employee motivation, such as low morale, distrust, negativity, low productivity and an unstable work force. Unfortunately, many other behaviors are subtle and many times unnoticed.

Overcoming resistance to change

Motivation often requires a change in behavior. Herein lies the challenge: overcoming a natural and normal resistance to change. Examples include reluctance to adopt a new calf-feeding program, a new milking routine, a new boss, or a supervisory role in the operation. Due to this inherent resistance, change will only occur when certain factors outweigh that resistance. (See sidebar.)

Training is a worthwhile investment

Motivation fuels the drive to do the everyday tasks. Retaining employees means keeping people who are able and willing to perform these tasks. This is where training can play a crucial role.


Training should be an ongoing, active process, and regarded highly enough to be worth investing time and resources. In fact, training should be considered an investment in the most valuable resource: people.

An effective training plan can be distilled to these five points: Explain, Show, Practice, Observe, Praise (adapted from Blanchard).

  1. Explain . Describe the procedure and explain why each step is important. This should be delivered in a clear, simple manner.
  2. Show . Demonstrate every step of a procedure, giving special attention to the key points.
  3. Practice . Allow the employee to try a new procedure and ask questions. It might be necessary to show certain points again, but investing time now will prevent future misunderstandings.
  4. Observe . Make sure the procedure is being implemented correctly. It is easier to modify behavior early in the process than to change habits developed over a long time.
  5. Praise . Give praise for a job well done. Even if some steps need correcting, praise the ones done right and help the employee modify whatever is needed.

Training can motivate employees because it helps them understand the importance of their job, get the big picture, and envision the future. It can trigger new interests and open opportunities for them to take on new roles. Conversely, training can sometimes be perceived as an imposed requirement with no apparent benefits for the worker. Therefore, training should be positioned as a process that benefits the business and the employee simultaneously.

The demanding nature of an animal operation can restrict time available for training and limit the attention span of the audience. Each individual will also have a preferred learning style. Initially a trainer may not know the trainee well enough to assess that learning style; therefore, it is useful to communicate in a way that engages as many senses as possible. In time, managers will be able to identify individual needs.

Strive to create a training environment where everyone is welcome to share experiences and points of view without fear of negative consequences. A very common complaint from workers is that management will not listen to them, stating, “They either don’t have the time, or don’t think it is important.”

Take time to praise and recognize


Don’t communicate only when there is something to correct. When asked how things are going, labor often responds with “I imagine things are okay since the manager hasn’t said anything” or “hasn’t complained” or even “hasn’t yelled…” Be sure to communicate when there is something positive to say.

Supervisors may be reluctant to praise subordinates fearing they will ask for a raise. Recognition and reward go beyond money alone. Yes, money is important to satisfy basic needs and provide a certain level of security. But if that aspect is covered, other facets become very powerful; for example, feeling proud of what one does, “I like my job, and I know (and the management tells me) it is important to this operation.”

The success of any agricultural business today depends on the performance of its people. The increased complexity of farm operations requires the interaction of different teams of people working on specific areas. Individual involvement, as well as the contribution of the whole team, ultimately determines the end result. Attracting and keeping good employees, motivating them, and training them are all factors that position the operation to be productive and successful. Central to this process is a solid culture that inspires people; a culture that invites people to work together toward common goals; a culture that encourages employees to improve the business and grow together with it.

The following formula adapted from Beckhard and Harris illustrates the components and equation for change: C > R

That is, motivation to change (C) must be greater than the resistance (R) to change, and change is defined as the product of the following elements as defined below.

C = (DO) x V x F > R

C = Change

D = Dissatisfaction with the status quo

(or O = Opportunity)

V = Aligned vision (desirability of the proposed change)

F = First step (minimal risk and disruption)

R = Resistance (perceived “cost” of changing)

One illustrative example is a high-performing individual showing great resistance to assume a job with greater responsibility. Assign resistance an arbitrary value of 50. Assume dissatisfaction is not very high (she will keep her job, no big deal) and/or the opportunity is not clear in her mind (D=3). The Vision that management has for the calf center and her new job is not totally in alignment with the vision she may have (V=5). The first step to implement the change could be within reach but does not seem totally “easy” (F=2).

This example’s formula would be DO x V x F = 3 x 5 x 2 = 30, 30 < 50

For change to happen, how can the equation be modified so that change outweighs resistance (R=50)? Why would she make the change? What factors prevent her from making the change? What happens if things stay as they are?

Analyzing these situations could become a quick, easy routine that will help managers formulate options to motivate people to change. A simple way to do this is by listing identified reasons for and against change in columns.

Reasons to:


Not change

Less dependency (burden) on manager

Not enough compensation

More time to do other things

Not trained


No authority


Used to owner telling her what to do

This exercise can help managers determine which equation factors need more work. It can also identify greatest opportunity. It could reveal that the first step toward change is easier than perceived. For example, it may be easier for that employee to take the new job because she is already doing many of the tasks required for it. Trying the new calf-feeding method for several days and being able to provide feedback can help workers realize the task is running smoothly and may not be as hard as initially thought. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request by mailing .

Miguel Morales
  • Miguel Morales

  • Vet/Technical Service Specialist
  • Email Miguel Morales