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Our changing industry requires everyone engaged

Jorge Estrada Published on 09 February 2012

The evolution, or should I say revolution, of the dairy industry in the U.S. seems to accelerate as time passes. When I came to this country in 1987 there were around 125,000 producers in the country. As we close 2011 there are about 50,000 dairies producing wholesome products for the country and the world.

What is it taking for you to stay in business and make it sustainable over the long haul? What changes have you had to make? One thing is for sure, we have had to realize we can’t make it without high-quality employees.

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Let’s take a moment to reflect on the following question: What are the qualities or attributes of your best employees? I am sure many of you would answer that they are willing to do whatever is needed around the dairy.

But beyond that, what makes these employees valuable to your business is that they treat your business as if it was theirs; they are willing to go the extra mile; they understand the big picture of the business and how they fit in; they know what their contributions are.

Scroll down or to view a video about employee engagement.

Let’s call these characteristics combined employee engagement. These are people contributing to your business far beyond just coming for the paycheck.

And to stay in business and get anything done through people, managers need to do better than just having warm bodies doing chores around the dairy. Probably the biggest component that is making a difference in the way we work with people is creating dairies of highly engaged employees. But just how do we do that?

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Well, that is where you come in as a manager. Dairies with the highest levels of employee engagement are around 85 to 90 percent engagement (as measured using key indicators).

Close to 50 percent of this employee engagement is driven by the relationship a manager or a supervisor has with each employee. This is huge, especially when it is focused around five critical factors at the manager’s fingertips in their everyday work.

Managers who are rated high on promoting engagement in their business are rated high on the following five items.

1. Set SMART goals. Engaged employees know what they are after, and their managers help them come up with and build goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Saying you will increase milk quality as a goal for the milking area is not a SMART goal.

Saying you will decrease somatic cell count from 210,000 to 150,000 in the next six weeks is a SMART goal. And like that, every single area should have goals built with their manager or supervisor.

2. Keep people accountable. This isn’t always easy. Once goals are set and people know what they need to accomplish, being accountable means people are willing to come forth and turn in their results, positive or negative, to their manager because their manager has built trust with them and has made it alright to do so, even if mistakes have been made and the goal has not been achieved.

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Many times employees are afraid of coming forth, especially with poor results, for fear of punishment, or even because it might cost them their jobs. Building accountability takes time, since employees love to come up with excuses for why they didn’t accomplish a goal or a task. Managers can and need to build a level of self-responsibility with each employee.

3. Effective communication. The primary role of dairy managers who establish high levels of communication with their employees is that they are constantly and frequently providing feedback to their employees. Employees who engage with their managers and their dairies to produce great results want to know “how” they are doing their job.

Whether it is constructive criticism or positive reinforcement, employees thrive on feedback from their managers. The largest component of communication for managers is to communicate this feedback frequently, timely and specifically.

4. Build organizations based on trust. Relationships don’t run on business alone – their primary fuel is trust. High-quality, long-term relationships take trust to thrust them forward. How trustworthy are you as a manager or supervisor? It is easy or hard to earn your trust?

You can test how much you trust people in the way you delegate work to them. People follow leaders they trust. Your actions must align with your word – if you tell people you are going to do something, follow through, and they will trust – otherwise employees begin to wonder your real intentions.

5. Recognize work well done. Recognition is just something dairies don’t do a whole lot about. Managers think employees will thrive or engage with pay increases, bonuses and other monetary recognition.

Those are important, but it is proven all over that recognizing employees for work well done, and for effort put in, goes a long way toward engaging employees. The magic “thank you,” a thumbs up, a pizza party for achieving a goal – they build engagement.

It is proven that companies with higher levels of engagement in their employees have higher return on their investment, higher profitability and more sustainable businesses. Measure employee engagement in your business, then figure out how managers are doing in the five items listed above and how they can improve engagement. These efforts will pay big dividends. PD

Jorge Estrada
President and CEO
Leadership Coaching International

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