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Manage change and influence team members on your dairy

Emily Barge for Progressive Dairy Published on 05 February 2021

The dairy industry is changing rapidly. While you might realize the importance of implementing a change on your operation to keep up with the evolving marketplace, how do you influence the people around you to accept the need for that change as well?

During the 11th annual Dairy Financial and Risk Management Conference, hosted by Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence, Jennifer Garrett of JG Consulting Services LLC shared strategies for implementing change and creating buy-in from farm employees and family members.

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“I grew up on a dairy farm and received a Ph.D. in dairy cattle nutrition, so the numbers are really important to me and always have been,” Garrett shared. “Yet as my career progressed, I came to realize the numbers are important to know, but they don’t always help to create appropriate changes. They are important when making decisions, but they don’t always influence people to change their behavior.”

To help drive that change, Garrett discussed the importance of leadership development, acting as a change agent and described factors that influence change and strategies for working with others to execute new ideas.

Act as a change agent

Over the last 15 years, the dairy industry has encountered a lot of change. From 2005 to 2019, total milk production steadily increased. The number of cows stayed about the same, but the milk per cow has increased significantly since 2005. With those changes in mind, Garrett challenged the audience to consider what the next 15 years will bring.

“There has been a lot of change that has occurred over the last 15 years. There have been changes in housing and cow comfort, precision nutrition, breeding technologies and genomics, financial tools and many others,” she said. “But what about the next 15 years? How will your role change? Will the road that got you here get you to 2035?”

Garrett encouraged attendees to accept the inevitability of change and determine how they plan to be a part of it.

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“When we’re in tough times, thinking innovatively is something we don’t take the time to do. But as someone managing and leading change, it’s important for us to build a creative vision for the future and know what our role is in that process,” Garrett said.

Establishing your role involves determining whether you are a change manager or a change agent. Garrett explained that managers typically have control over parts of their dairy business and help monitor the numbers. They are often rewarded for telling their employees what to do. An agent, on the other hand, is a person authorized to act on another’s behalf. An agent knows the numbers but also understands the importance of engaging others in the development process for a big change. Change agents know their purpose and know how to motivate others along the way.

Understand your purpose and leverage forces of change

For dairy professionals, knowing your purpose and acting as a change agent means identifying the point at which your talents, skills and abilities intersect with a need in the world around you. Garrett shared an example about her personal journey to finding her purpose.

“Originally, I thought my purpose was to make sure our cows produced well through precision nutrition. I began to learn that might be a skill I have, but my talent is helping people learn. My purpose is about communicating and engaging people to help them create change,” she said.

By identifying your purpose in the dairy industry, Garrett said you will be more likely to commit to change since you know what matters to you. However, having a purpose is not enough when it comes to motivating your team. As a change agent, it’s important to understand and accept that your employees may resist change. Change isn’t always simple: Individuals may be afraid, may not be able to see where you’re headed or are simply satisfied with where they are now, she said.

“One of the first steps is accepting that change is going to be messy. While the end of a change is hopefully not a loss, when we’re going through change, we’re leaving something behind in order to move forward,” she explained.

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This process can lead to feelings of denial, anger and confusion among team members. For example, your dairy may be experiencing low milk peaks and an increasing somatic cell count, but you can’t get your team on board to implement the necessary cow comfort changes you envision.

In order to build acceptance and help your employees overcome their initial resistance to change, start by identifying a tipping point that will encourage your team to deviate from the status quo and be willing to try something new, she said. That tipping point could include sharing a vision of what ideal cow comfort looks like for your farm and helping them see, feel, hear and experience what’s possible.

“It’s not about telling them to increase cow comfort. It’s about engaging them, as a change agent, and helping them see for themselves the need to make a shift,” Garrett said.

In addition to building a vision, another aspect is helping your team take an initial step forward and create a project plan. It may not be as big as building a new barn; it could involve minor changes such as evaluating your farm or cow records or visiting another facility to observe the difference cow comfort makes to that dairy operation. As a change agent, you can help others determine their first step and guide them as they complete it.

Seek alignment and integration

While visions and project plans are important, these factors might not be enough to overcome resistance – especially if everyone involved in your operation isn’t on board with the change.

“Particularly for a big change, we need alignment and integration across the organization. You must be aligned and integrated with employees and your boss as well as external stakeholders,” Garrett said.

In addition to convincing everyone on your immediate dairy team to believe in the change, key stakeholders must also be comfortable with it. She encouraged producers to consider all of their stakeholders: the banker, nutritionist, veterinarian, builder or a major influencer who’s not necessarily the owner but highly involved in your operation. You need their alignment and buy-in, and they need to believe in the logic behind your idea to successfully execute your change.

“Recognize the value of your change for each stakeholder. How is it going to influence your ability to pay back your lender? How is it going to influence your employees and the rest of your family?” Garrett explained. “Ensuring the plan is believable by all stakeholders involved is often a step that’s overlooked. When investigated, it’s often the reason why individuals get stuck as they implement change.”

Seek to continuously learn and improve

Minimizing resistance to change involves creating a vision, developing a first step and creating believability and alignment. In addition, Garrett reminded the audience that successful change agents seek to continuously learn and improve. If you’re reading this article, you are probably one of those. She encouraged dairy producers not to be afraid of learning from others, especially those outside the agriculture industry.

“You might choose to go outside of agriculture, which I recommend at times, to get some new insight. Learn about how other industries and businesses are viewing similar situations to stimulate other ways of approaching problems and finding solutions,” she said.

Garrett believes the best way to successfully integrate change on your dairy is to be clear about your purpose, understand how to impact forces of change and to look forward instead of back.  end mark

PHOTO:Getty images.

Emily Barge is a communications and marketing manager with Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence. Email Emily Barge.

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