Livestock takes lots of TLC (tender loving care). When you grow up around livestock you just KNOW it and you probably learned it by osmosis. Cows come first, no matter what. Caring for animals is just innate in me. I think dairy farmers are keenly tuned in to their cows (or calves). If they even look at us “funny,” we do a double take and spend some time examining or investigating. Then we act upon our findings. These skills are what make us good animal caretakers day in and day out.
I recently attended a meeting with a room packed full of dairy farmers who all wanted to be better at working with people and staffing their dairies. I picked up on some things I already knew but hadn’t yet implemented on our farm. I learned some new things that might work. I also heard some other ideas that most likely won’t work in our situation. But I went with an open mind. I went knowing I didn’t know it all and had lots to learn in the human resources arena.
Some folks at the meeting had specific situations they wanted to solve. Some had no idea where to turn when staff situations went awry, while others came there trying to stay ahead of the game and ahead of potential problems. As often the case at ag meetings, networking with other producers was just as rewarding as listening to the speakers.
Here’s a few key points I came away with:
- Employees won’t think like us as owners. It’s up to us as managers and owners to think about the “big picture.” Don’t get too busy working every day so there is no time to think strategically.
- Set high standards for yourself and your employees, and work together to achieve them.
- A good people manager must be present and must follow-through.
- Make it “easy” for staff to do the right thing (have the proper tools, allow ample time and write down expectations.)
- Ask your staff, “What do you think?” more often!
- When things go right, celebrate! A pizza party, gift cards or some appreciation will go a long way.
There are numerous consultants out there who can help. There are large ag companies with programs designed to train staff and create a team approach. We can also learn from meetings like the one I attended, hosted by UW-Extension and other ag groups.
I observe that most farmers have a desire to improve their people skills, we just need to make the time to do this and put it into practice. Stick with it and let’s constantly ask ourselves, “Would you work for yourself?”
I hope the answer is YES.