← Return to Home Page

Center for Dairy Excellence: The role of SOPs in engaged employees


On a day-to-day basis, standard operating procedures (SOPs) are integral to establishing and maintaining engaged employees.


By Dr. David Welch


Often employees are thought of as liabilities, when they should be considered assets. One key to success is to engage your employees in your business. Engagement is the connection between an employee and employer which results in the employee giving discretionary effort. 

Discretionary effort has many definitions. Perhaps the best definition is “getting things done at will, with enthusiasm.” 

 Engaged employees can benefit an organization in many ways: They have a greater emotional attachment to the organization, enjoy coming to work, have increased retention, and contribute a higher level of discretionary effort.

Every business can have employees with varying degrees of engagement. The average business will have 30% actively engaged, 55% not engaged, and 15% actively disengaged.

SOPs are integral

In the big picture of strategic planning, we need engaged employees. On a day-to-day basis, standard operating procedures (SOPs) are integral to establishing and maintaining engaged employees.

SOPs play several key roles in modern dairy operations: they are the instructions that guide employee’s work; they are the standards by which managers can train and evaluate; and they are the access point where professional advisors can suggest changes and improvements to the dairy’s production processes.

In addition, SOPs can be tools for engaging employees in constant process improvement. Employee performance can determine the success or failure for each production process. Employees should be involved in the SOP process from the beginning, helping them take ownership for each process they are involved in.

SOPs work best when they are written for procedures that can be broken into steps, occur in a defined time, and are important to the farm’s success. Easy examples could be milking procedures, parlor set-up and cleaning, newborn calf procedures, and most feeding procedures. Processes that are more difficult to prepare SOPs for usually involve decision-making, such as dealing with abnormal milk, assisting with calf delivery, or deciding when to adjust feed rations. As people gain experience, SOP development becomes easier and more challenging processes can be improved.


Seven steps are involved in producing SOPs and generating engagement by the employees:

1) Plan for results. Tie the SOP to a business goal. Establish benchmarks that can be used to evaluate success.

2) First draft. Write an SOP that is appropriate for the process being considered. The process should be broken down into several well-defined steps that are easy to follow.

3) Internal review. Share a draft with employees. Success is more likely if employees are involved, have ownership and do not feel that SOPs are being imposed on them. Another reason for employee involvement is that they are likely to have good ideas.

4) External review. SOPs should be submitted to external advisers, such as veterinarians, nutritionists and extension staff, for review. They may suggest changes that will make it clearer and easier for employees to follow.

5) Testing. How well a SOP performs in the workplace will indicate the effectiveness of the SOP. Have employees and a person not familiar with the work test the SOP exactly as it is written. Any steps that are confusing may need to be rewritten.

6) Post. Post the final draft so that it is easily accessible by employees. In some cases, it may be posted in large text so that it may be reviewed while the task is being completed.

7) Train. The last step is to train the staff to follow the SOP exactly. When training, share why it is important to follow each SOP step. Understanding why is more important than knowing what to do or how to do it. 

Often, writing and implementing SOPs is initially met with enthusiasm. However, employees will lose interest over time if monitoring and feedback systems are not associated with the SOP process. Feedback should be specific, relevant, credible, frequent and timely. In addition, rewards may be associated with attaining certain goals. Rewards may be financial, but often a sincere verbal acknowledgement of success and pride in workmanship can be powerful motivators. 

If you are having a challenge with “actively disengaged employees,” consider developing and implementing SOPs, along with appropriate performance reviews, as tools to improve the level of employee engagement, as well as the performance and profitability of your dairy business.



Dr. David Welch, DVM, is one of two Dairy Decisions Consultants for Employees (DDCe) with the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence. For more information, phone: 717-346-0849 or visit www.centerfordairyexcellence.org.