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Switching from three milking shifts to two

PD Staff Published on 17 January 2014

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Our dairy decided to switch from three milking shifts to two in order to save on payroll costs. We knew the change would require some explanation. When one shift got wind of the change, they demanded a meeting with me and the herdsman. We agreed.

When the meeting starts, one of the lead milkers begins yelling at me and the herdsman, shouting profanities and disrespecting us in Spanish. I can only understand bits and pieces of what he’s saying, but it’s clear he’s not happy about the change.

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He’s listing demands that need to be met before the entire shift will agree to the changes. We’ve had run-ins with this individual before, and he can stir up trouble. It feels like a mutiny. I’m tempted to fire him on the spot to regain authority with the rest of the shift. What should I do?

Ilustration of a disagreement during a meeting

Marco Lopez
Milk to the Max
Dairy Specialist

Whenever a dairy needs to make major changes in management that will affect most of the staff, it is extremely important to have a plan on how to break the news to employees without affecting their morale and performance.

The majority of these decisions are made with upper management in the office or during a private meeting discussing the issues that need to be addressed. However, often employees find out about the proposed changes, and they have already discussed it among themselves, so by the time you break the news they are ready to counter-offer conditions about the changes, and some may have in mind, “I’ll quit.”

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What can you do to streamline your meeting?

1. Have a facilitator. Invite someone to help facilitate who is familiar with the issues at hand. Meetings can be energy drains if the owner or manager loses control of the communication and the process during the meeting.

2. Create an agenda. Managers and herdsmen are often reluctant to have meetings because they are inefficient or a waste of their time. Yes, without an agenda, meetings will be non-productive. Decide what needs to be addressed.

Provide advantages and disadvantages and stick to that discussion. Often employees will bring up other issues; know what to table for subsequent meetings and ask for understanding and agreement before you close your meeting.

3. Provide feedback. And be ready to realign your long-term “team players.” Communication is crucial after making changes. Keep your employees informed about the progress made after the changes.

Disgruntled or unhappy employees will often recruit other members of the team to “go to the boss and threaten to quit.” Be ready to identify that employee and realign their position. Think about the long-term longevity of the crew and the business. Don’t let one bad apple ruin the entire box.

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Orlando Gil
Management Consultant
TCTS Global, LLC

To save on payroll costs, take advantage of this opportunity and fire the lead milker on the spot. Also, you can go ahead and fire anyone else that complains about the upcoming changes … then you can give yourself and the herdsman a raise with all the savings.

Seriously now, this might not be the best option, as firing the lead milker on the spot may impact not only this particular shift but also the rest of your staff.

You might immediately save on payroll costs but will also be adding other costs that can impact the operation’s bottom line in the future – recruiting, training, loss in productivity, loss in efficiencies, etc., not to mention the impact on employee morale, teamwork, and most definitely, your reputation as an employer.

In this situation, the best option would be to remain calm, state you have agreed to listen and consider their concerns, but not under these conditions. If the lead milker continues to use profanities, cancel the meeting and leave.

However, assuming everyone calms down, you can simply state that you are considering switching from three to two shifts because of high costs, you are sorry this information has leaked out, and that you are willing to listen to their concerns … then listen, take notes, show empathy and end the meeting stating you will get back to them with a decision.

You should take some time and evaluate the implications a decision like this can have on your operation and might consider seeking an outside consultant that can help you through this transition. Also, this may be the perfect time to fire the lead milker and reorganize and restructure your staff. The employees that do appreciate their jobs will stay and provide you with a new start.

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Tom Wall
Dairy Coach

I’m tempted to write about how and why you ended up in this predicament in the first place. But that doesn’t matter right now. It’s too late to go “back in time” and address the disgruntled guy’s attitude when you had the chance or to build a more trusting relationship with the rest of your team. You are where you are, and now you have to get through it.

So here are the three things I’d suggest you do:

1. Let the “loose cannon” vent for a few minutes, then calmly stop his rant and gain control of the situation in a calm and respectful tone (I know, easier said than done.).

2. Look directly at him and say, “I’m offended by your language and lack of respect. I never talk to you or your co-workers the way you’re talking to me right now.” Then, look at the rest of the team and say, “It’s not acceptable to talk to each other like this. If we have disagreements, I’ll gladly listen to everyone. But not like this.”

3. Hopefully at this point, you’ve quieted the room and replaced the runaway emotions with logical reasoning and civility. Next, tell everyone that the dairy is facing some financial challenges and you need to make some changes.

Tell them what you’ve decided to do (not “what you’re thinking about doing”), when the changes are going to start and who you’re letting go. Next, tell the disrespectful guy that because of his disrespectful behavior, he no longer has a job. Finally, tell the guys who got “cut” that you’ll gladly help them find a job at a neighboring dairy.

And from now on, be a little more careful with who to trust and talk to about any big changes you plan on making at the dairy. PD

Click here to submit your own employee relations questions for a panel to review.

Illustration by Kristen Phillips.

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