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Metrics (goals) and extraordinary productivity

Robert Milligan Published on 08 June 2010

Ask yourself the following question:

• Why do the United Way and essentially all other fundraising efforts set a specific fundraising target rather than raising as much as possible?



The answer is that the goal-setting research and everyday experience clearly shows that working toward a goal increases motivation and performance and greatly enhances the probability of success.

Since goal setting is a proven tool for enhanced performance and increased success, the question becomes what goals – metrics – should be used on a dairy farm. To address this issue, this column addresses the following questions:

Are our usual production standards – metrics – effective goals?
The answer is “not necessarily.” Our usual production standards are typically animal (production per cow, somatic cell count) or crop (yield per acre, percent protein) performance measures. I have, however, seen no evidence that animals or crops respond to goals.

It is people who respond to goals! Our usual performance standards are important. We must, however, take an additional step to specify what members of our workforce – people – will have to do to meet these animal and crop performance measures. We then establish goals focused on people performance.

What determines how enthusiastically your workforce responds to goals?
The first criterion for an effective goal for an individual workforce member or for a team (milker team for example) is that the individual person or team must have control over whatever determines whether the goal is met. Farm profitability or cost control goals usually fail this test, as do most production goals. The reason is that multiple people and/or teams control the many factors that determine success or failure in meeting the production goal.


What do we do? We typically have to 1) determine the factors that will determine whether our business or production goal is met, 2) identify who controls these factors and 3) set goals accordingly.

Let’s look at an example. Certainly a key component of milk production and dairy farm profitability is ensuring cows’ nutrient requirements are met at a reasonable cost. Looking at our steps:

1. Many factors are involved in assuring that the cows’ nutrient equipments are met. Let’s select three:
• Quality forages

• Formulating the feed mix exactly as specified

• Minimizing weighbacks while ensuring there is feed available at all times.

2. We can identify who has control over each:
• Quality forage is the responsibility of whoever is managing the forage crop enterprises, often an owner (they need goals too).


• The feeder is responsible for making certain the ration fed always is the same as the formulated ration.

• Whoever monitors cow numbers and intake to determine quantity fed is responsible for weighbacks.

3. For each, the following are possible goals:
• Quality parameter goals including dry matter are key for feed quality. These goals are often not set because they are so sensitive to the uncontrollable factor of weather. This is not a good excuse; it does, however, mean that the quality goals are primarily to provide clarity and focus, with goal attainment evaluated taking into account the weather.

• Modern technology, often with programs to record deviations and variability from the prescribed feed mix, makes setting goals for the feeder easier than for many other members of the workforce. Goals for absolute deviations and for variability should be established and monitored.

• To ensure that the cows have feed in front of them with minimum wastage, goals can be set for average quantity of weighback and also for the number or percentage of the days when the bunk is empty prior to feeding.

Let’s begin another example: establishing a goal for somatic cell count is common on dairy farms. The following is the first step; you can do steps two and three.

First: Many factors determine somatic cell count, including the facility itself, over which we have little control in the short run. Let’s select three:

• The milking procedure and the consistency with which it is implemented.

• The cleanliness of the barns where the animals are housed.

• Teat injuries – let’s look at those caused by poor facility maintenance.

The second criterion for effective goal setting is that the worker must adopt the goals as his/her own. Ask yourself this question: If you set the goals and the employees do not adopt them as their own, who in the eyes of the employee fails if they are not met? The answer is you! Getting employees to adopt goals – become committed to meeting them – is an ongoing process. The easiest and best place to start is by involving them in setting the goals!!

What are the characteristics of effective goals?
Gaining commitment to goals the employee can achieve is necessary for successful goal setting. SMART is often used to describe the characteristics of effective goals:

S is for specific. It must be clear exactly what it is that is being attained.

M is for measurable. This is often a tough one because not everything is easily measured. Sometimes you have to be creative even to the point of having a qualitative scale. We have used a scale of 1, 2 and 3 for cleanliness, even with pictures depicting each rating.

A for attainable but challenging. The goal must provide a challenge; however, unattainable or too difficult goals lead to demotivating failure.

R is for rewarding: Achieving the goal should provide satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

T for timed: The goal should have a date associated with when it will be achieved.

How are goals best used on a dairy?
Goals are fabulous tools that lead to personal and business success. They are best utilized as part of a world-class performance improvement system including copious quantities of high-quality feedback, regular discussion of performance versus the goals and an ongoing professional improvement plan. PD

Robert A. Milligan
  • Robert A. Milligan

  • Senior Consultant
  • Dairy Strategies, LLC
  • Email Robert A. Milligan