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Practical concepts for employee training and dairy performance

Fabian Bernal Published on 19 January 2010
Our society is facing fundamental changes in its dynamics, influenced by an economical downturn, change in markets and new demands in family life. Dairy workers have new aspirations – both personal and economical – but most do not have an educational level that allows placing themselves within a larger economic segment.

All these changes in the dynamics of the global economy represent a great opportunity to improve and reach our objectives. Such an achievement is attainable with a full understanding of the vital role of human resources in businesses. However, we should have our priorities straight: first, cows; second; human resources; and third, management. If we are successful in the first two, we will be successful managers in an ever-changing and more challenging market.

Dairy managers and dairy workers face substantial challenges in adapting to new technologies and new farm business needs. In response to this development in agribusiness today, we need to create strategies that emphasize a greater access to technical support and training in order to assist agricultural employers and farm workers.

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These training sessions and technical services should be customized, addressing the unique integrated production system at each farm. It is all about education and performance.

The question is: Have you and your dairy adviser really observed what is happening on your farm? Likewise, have you addressed those issues correctly and promptly?

While farm owners and managers place all responsibility on human resources available to achieve higher productivity and performance of the dairy farm, the main thrust of the dairy business – animal handling, milk quality and milking efficiency – is held by a staff that has received little or no training to perform the various tasks within their job. Information gets lost due to language barriers and production gets sloppier – a positive response does not always mean that your employees understand why we do a specific task and the importance of it.

While training programs focus on workforce development and best production practices, we need to also look at other areas that will challenge your employees, such as:

Livestock management
• From calf to cow
• Animal welfare

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Reproduction
• Heat detection

Barn and parlor management
• Best practices in the milking parlor
• Cow traffic
• Milk quality and productivity

Production systems

• Feed management
• Food and feed safety

Safe work environment
One of the most important managerial distinctions to reflect on is the quality of human resources and their training. The achievement of long-term goals depends on the proper use of production inputs.

The lack of a strategic work plan that includes performance evaluations has created a need for unique technology transfer programs that can be applied to both the producer and the employee. In many cases, the only time that employees receive any feedback is when the work is poorly done. In turn, this generates negative feelings, often leading to a lack of motivation and consequently reduced performance.

Staff members need a positive motivational plan that builds their morale and helps achieve the overall farm goals. Creating an active learning environment that explains why we do what we do just makes sense. We have identified that when employees cannot do what is asked of them or what is expected, it is usually because:

• They do not know how to do the job properly because they have not been given training for effective implementation.
• They do not understand why they have to do certain tasks.
• They think they are doing well, but receive no feedback to confirm this.
• They face obstacles beyond their means.
• They do not think that new standard procedures work and have no explanation for change.

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Most workers believe that completing a job faster and cutting corners is better, that their familiarity with the equipment and everyday activities is unbeatable, and that as long as they are always in agreement, their boss will be happy. Meanwhile, employees are not motivated and change becomes a frightening challenge.

Remember that many of the negative behaviors are rapidly acquired and transmitted within the farm relatively fast. What I often hear is, “If he doesn’t do his job, why do I have to do it?”

In order to share knowledge and experiences and to promote good communication with employees in the dairy, consider the following ideas:

1. Once you have hired a new employee, offer them induction: show the property, introduce them to other employees and answer any questions about the rules at the farm. Review the responsibilities verbally and in writing. Have them translated if necessary.
2. Use different forms of communication. Remember that reading abilities can be a challenge, too. Include messages, photos, posters, videos, etc. Be creative.
3. Have SOPs written down and standardized.
4. Before you communicate, have a clear message you want to convey in your mind.
5. Be willing to listen. Give them the opportunity to be heard and understood.
6. Be firm on your expectations.
7. Have regular meetings with your employees. Make them feel like they are part of the business and its future.
8. When possible, show them the impact of the proper performance on the overall productivity (milk production, SCC, PI, animal health, etc).
9. Ask their opinion. Nobody wants to be the last to know about a plan or idea. Include employees. Give them a sense of value.
10. Say “thank you.” You expect a good job from your employees, but when they go that extra mile, show them your appreciation.

Most milk producers are good leaders that understand the importance of human resources. For others, this is one of the most difficult tasks when managing their dairy business. Anyone who wants to improve in this aspect can, as long as their priorities are right (cows, human resources and management).

The benefits are enormous. Good employees do even better when they are recognized openly, which makes them feel like they are part of the team. Everyone becomes a winner, creating positive feelings and good communication. Employee performance improves, and in the end, managers and cows are happy. PD

Fabian Bernal
Dairy Management Adviser
Alltech

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