Editor's note: While this article is written for general agriculture and dairy farm managers, there are some great nuggets of advice for horse farm and stable owners/managers.
Being an effective manager of people begins with taking ownership for that role. All too often what I hear from dairy producers is a great reluctance to manage people.
Understandably, that is not why you got into the dairy business, but managing people is one of the major roles of any business, including the dairy business.
Mistakes We Make
According to Michigan State University Extension, two mistakes that producers sometimes make in regard to managing people are avoidance and blame. However, both avoidance and blame take us in a downward spiral of performance. Consider what happens when we make those errors.
Maybe we avoid establishing the roles and responsibilities for employees, leaving it open so that we can keep adding to them. However that leads to uncertainty and unfulfilled expectations. Sometimes we avoid addressing problems with performance or procedures until they get so bad that we blow our top. Maybe we avoid conflicts that occur between employees until someone leaves.
Then, there is blame. All too often, we tend to blame the employees for failures, shortcomings or lack of progress. Being quick to blame may reveal in us an attitude about employees that considers them inferior or even stupid. It may reveal that we are looking for them to make mistakes rather than trusting that they will do well.
Blaming employees is a way of shifting all the responsibility to them. Maybe they bear some responsibility, but how much of the responsibility is really ours? You are responsible for who works for you. You are responsible for training them. You are responsible for developing them.
Ownership of employee management means that you accept the responsibility you have, that you don’t avoid issues with employees and that you are proactive in creating the environment for your employees to succeed.
Example of Ownership for Management
An attitude of taking ownership for employee management is what I saw in a message I received from a dairy producer who had recently attended one of our conferences. He wrote:
“Our newest employee, a relief cow feeder, got frustrated with the way his schedule was (not knowing what he would be doing from day to day also who to listen to when other employees would ask him to do chores); you get the idea. As he was driving away to quit I stopped him and apologized to him that his job description was ambiguous and did not have a written schedule. We met together with the other cow feeder and agreed on their days on and days off. I also put up a board with a schedule on it with blank spaces that could be filled in with chores a couple of days ahead so he knew what was going on.”
It would have been easy for this manager to let the employee go, after all, he was already in his vehicle and driving. But instead, the manager took ownership. He recognized that all the fault might not be on the employee and that he was responsible for the problem, at least in part.
As the owner, he should have established the expectations and schedule for all his employees. But, as happens many times, he had only partially met that need. This was a wake-up call that all employees need clearly defined expectations.
Are you Owning your Role in Management?
What is the case in your operation? Are your employees frustrated because you haven’t made your expectations clear? This would be a good time to ask them. Relieving the frustrations of employees will ultimately relieve your frustrations in working with employees.
We encourage you to take ownership for managing employees. If employee turnover rate is high, take ownership and find out why people are leaving. If protocol drift is rampant, take ownership and learn what factors increase or decrease drift. If mistakes are too frequent, take ownership and begin to understand what employees are doing.
Taking ownership does not mean that employees are not responsible to do what you have trained and equipped them to do, but it does mean that you have done everything to help them be successful in their jobs. As we have learned from employees and employers, when your employees are successful, you will be more successful!
This article was written by Phil Durst and published by Michigan State University Extension.