Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Move culture in a positive direction

Monty Miller and Neil Michael Published on 31 December 2015

Note: This is the third article in a five-part series for Progressive Dairyman about dairy culture.

Enhancing your operation’s “constructive” culture is the most sought-after transition on dairy farms – and most organizations.



A constructive culture encourages members to work to their full potential, resulting in high levels of motivation, satisfaction, teamwork, quality and growth.

In the second article in this series (featured in the Sept. 15, 2015 issue), the four styles of a constructive culture were explained:

  • Achievement denotes “a culture where organizations do things well and value members who set and accomplish goals.” As a result, people in the organization have an understanding of the business’s focus and their role in achieving it.

  • Self-actualization emphasizes “personal growth and development” of its members. Members continue to develop the skills and knowledge to be able to do more tomorrow than they could do today.

  • Humanistic-encouraging places emphasis on “developing the knowledge and skills of others.” It ranges from owners and managers teaching and coaching to peers doing the same.

  • Affiliative places a high priority on positive interpersonal relationships. Behaviors include open communication to show concern, cooperation and teamwork.

In other words, the constructive style places emphasis on:

  • Individuals understanding their roles in achieving business goals (achievement)

  • Developing their skills and knowledge to support achievement of those goals (self-actualization)

  • Doing so with the support of managers and owners who provide training and development opportunities (humanistic-encouraging)

  • And everyone collaboratively working together to achieve the goals (affiliative)

When all people in the organization have this support and sense of clarity, progress is made toward a high-performance organization.

participant observationsFigure 1 and Table 1 illustrate how a dairy participating in the Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition AgCultures program has been able to positively influence the culture on its operation.


Click here to open Figure 1 at full size in a new window. (1.5 MB)

Participant feedback

Participants were asked how the organization has changed as a result of the Practical Neuroscience of Leadership program. Their observations are shown in Table 1, along with the correlation to which constructive style it is associated.

What does this mean?

Dairies can move the culture in a positive direction. As previously discussed, owners and families have an overwhelming desire to create constructive cultures and reduce defensive cultures on their farms.

This process takes time and does not occur as a single event. It works best if it is done in consumable pieces with participants going back to their job, applying knowledge with coaching, feeling success and then eagerly returning for the next feeding.

The results are best summed up by this employee when asked what the training has accomplished. “We have simply become more patient with each other as we have developed an appreciation for our differences,” he said. “As a result of spending more quality time explaining and teaching, we have developed more respect and tolerance for each other. It’s working.”


The next article in the series will explore the time and commitment needed to positively influence a dairy’s culture.  PD

Monty Miller is the owner of International Performance Solutions, a consulting practice that engages in training, development and organizational change. Neil Michael is global tech services manager with Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition.

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

The first article (Your dairy's culture is more than yogurt or opera) discussed the definition of cultures and implications of culture on dairy farms.

The second article (The measure of a dairy's culture) discussed data collected for 28 dairies and more than 450 participants using the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI) results and the desire of all participants to create more constructive cultures and reduce defensive behaviors.

The fourth article (Culture assessments: How to gain an accurate appraisal) discussed conducting a meaningful culture assessment takes time, focus and a sincere commitment to learn and grow – by dairy producers and dairy employees.

The fifth article (Case study: Culture in action during a tractor fire) helps us see what training and organization can do.

Two case studies

The data is fascinating and presents an interesting look into what goes into changing the culture on a dairy. But what about the on-farm effects? Here are what two operations learned about shifting their culture in the desired direction.

To understand the results, keep in mind that more than a year ago, the first round of OCI surveys was conducted on dairies participating in the AgCultures program. Some of the dairies conducted a second round of the survey in April 2015. These data enable comparison of first- and second-round results and explains measures taken to enhance their cultures.

Dairy A

At the onset of the survey, the owner was exhausted and needed to restructure dairy management. To help, the dairy recruited two senior-level leaders – one to focus on legal-counsel needs and a second individual to focus on general manager responsibilities. Changes were also made with existing managers to create a new organizational structure.

The owner was able to reduce his operational engagement and increase participation in new strategic initiatives. The owner and family clarified their mission and values to support the hiring of the new general manager.

Several months after the restructuring occurred and hiring of new leadership, a 15 percent positive shift in the constructive culture could be quantified. And the dairy recorded a reduction in the aggressive style by 6 percent and a 10 percent reduction in passive style.

“The restructuring got rid of many of the negatives that were happening at the dairy,” owners Bart and Els DeSaegher agree. “As a result, we created more positive leadership and an overall positive climate for employees. The process just cleaned everything up. And we were freed up to pursue strategic interests.”

At the time of the survey, role clarity and conflict did not change much. However, employee satisfaction did change. Survey participants were excited about the leadership changes and the style of the new general manager, who has a positive, can-do attitude that energized employees. It was too soon at the time of the survey for employees to gauge role clarity, but employees were optimistic.

Dairy B

Over the course of several months, a training and development plan was put into place for more than 60 leaders, managers and employees on this dairy. Participants went through a series of exercises and learning sessions during the process.

The program included five two-hour bilingual sessions in which participants engaged in:

  • A self-assessment called Brain Pathways to learn more about personal as well as team and industry learning styles and what they mean

  • Building tolerance for each person’s different way of learning and understanding, finding common ground, moving from “I” and “you” to “ours” by finding commonalities and building more trust

  • Learning about leadership alignment and communication preferences, and also how brains respond to change and how individuals may take the “high road” for best results

  • Listening skills, since people learn and understand differently

  • Exploring the type of culture and team in which they wished to work

The concepts were reinforced by the owner’s sister, a counselor by training, and family members, who frequently met with managers and teams on how to leverage the concepts presented.

“To make this work, managers and leadership needed to use the skills learned, follow-up on these skills and follow through with further exercises to keep it fresh and top-of-mind,” says dairy owner John Pagel. “Enhancing culture is not an event, it is a journey.”

After six months, a 56 percent improvement in the constructive style was quantified. This was accompanied by a reduction in the aggressive style by 6 percent and an increase in the passive style by 10 percent.

Both role clarity and conflict and employee satisfaction improved from the first to second rounds of OCI.