By Felix Soriano
I hear many dairy owners and managers preach about the importance of “consistency” when it comes to managing a dairy. In fact, I also preach this when I talk to frontline workers and employees working at a dairy operation.
Some of the same managers and owners who preach about the importance of consistency are the first to become inconsistent with their decisions, making unpredictable changes during unstable economic times. They typically ask their nutritionist to make changes in the diets without evaluating the impact these changes will have on income over feed costs (IOFC). Or, they may lay off employees without evaluating how these layoffs will affect herd health, labor morale and productivity, and bottom-line profitability.
Great dairy managers anchor themselves in solid ideas, plans and goals, even during uncertain times. They know and understand the dairy industry has become very unpredictable, but they still lead in a consistent manner and, therefore, get more predictable results.
How do they do it? Great leaders do four things lower-performance managers don’t:
1) They define and focus on their top goals. The main issues I typically find when working with some dairy managers are: they don’t have any defined goals, or if they do, they are not communicating them properly to the rest of the employees; or they get distracted from them.
• No defined goals: Too many dairies have no goals to speak of. In some instances, the manager or owner may have a set of goals defined, but when I ask the employees about those goals, they look at me as if I were an alien. It is very important for any organization to have one, two or three clear, well-defined, measurable goals that can be shared with employees. (Examples can be found on my website: www.apndairy.com.) Of course, these goals will vary from dairy to dairy, and it’s always recommended to have your key employees, nutritionist, veterinarian and consultants involved when defining those goals.
• Managers get distracted from the goals. Even if the goals are well defined, day-to-day pressures take over and managers and employees forget about the goals. It’s the leader/manager’s role to regularly emphasize the goals, rethink people’s jobs to help them achieve the goals, and minimize the distractions to better focus on the goals that must be achieved.
In summary, the manager’s job starts with identifying the goal(s), communicating those goals, explaining them and making sure that everyone understands them.
There should only be one, two or three well-defined goals, and you may have different goals for different units within your dairy. For example: One or two main goals for calf feeders; one or two for feeders; one or two for milkers, etc.
2) Make sure everyone knows what role they play and what they need to do to achieve those goals. Many times dairy managers set up goals, but they don’t define and communicate what needs to be done to achieve them. Good leaders will give employees all the necessary tools to succeed, including standard operating procedures, job descriptions and any other tools necessary. Also, great managers will involve team members in defining how those goals will be reached.
3) Keep score. It is essential to track measures that will lead to the achievement of the goals. There are two types of measures to track: lag measures and lead measures.
Lag measures will tell us what happened, and are the type of measures managers usually look at on a monthly bases to evaluate the overall dairy.
On the other hand, lead measures are predictive, and can be influenced by people’s daily performances. Managers and employees can look at these measures daily, weekly and/or monthly.
Good managers focus on a few lead measures the team can control, and help employees stay focused on them by monitoring those measures consistently. An example would be parlor throughput, milk flow, and milk per stall per hour. Combined, these are lead measures that will help milkers in each shift stay focused on their task and achieve the parlor performance and efficiency goals expected by the manager.
4) Set up a regular cycle of follow-through. Conduct regular meetings, where both manager and employees are held accountable for achieving results. This is the time to ask and discuss goals, and to refresh what needs to be done in order to achieve them. If these meetings are not done and goals are not discussed on a consistent basis, employees will quickly forget about them and won’t care.
The meetings should be conducted weekly, and sometimes daily, if necessary. Develop a scoreboard, where team members can see where they are in reference to their goals. Have employees discuss what changes they may have done or issues they might have in reference to achieving those goals, and plan what to do next.
Clearly, leading teams during unpredictable times is a difficult task. Following these four steps will help you improve your leadership skills. Remember, it’s not enough to announce your goals and expect people to be on board. To become a great leader, you must engage your team to figure out the necessary measures to achieve those goals, and then relentlessly monitor those measures.