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How to develop training skills for middle managers

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 20 November 2012

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on developing middle managers. Click here to read part one of the series. Click here to read part three of the serices.

The first article in this series looked at determining the right ingredients and personality types for middle management roles.



Once selected, those middle managers need to be groomed to be able to fill the owner’s or previous manager’s shoes.

“You need to teach people to do what you would do if you could be there all the time,” said Mary Kraft, noting it was a favourite quote from Tom Fuhrmann’s Dairy Works seminar.

As Kraft, a dairy producer from Fort Morgan, Colorado, addressed a group of dairy producers at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) Business Conference this spring, she said training must be done in order for a manager to react instantly to given situations – so that when they are instructed to perform a task, they know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done, specific to the owner’s wishes.

“You get what you put into the training experience. If you do it halfway, expect that kind of performance from your guys,” Kraft said.

She also cautioned to be careful what you do and don’t teach because your employee could be with you for a really long time. Ten years later they might still be doing something wrong because they weren’t instructed the proper way when they first started.


This is why it is important to “begin with the end in mind,” a tip she shared from Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Similarly, this helps target the training for a manager. If you want them to oversee the milking crew, don’t give them lessons in feeding right off. Begin with the end in mind by focusing on their specific role prior to teaching how everything on the dairy is integrated.

Develop protocols
Before you begin training it helps to develop protocols for each task.

“Protocols are huge. They are very valuable and a must-have if you are developing middle managers,” Kraft said.

These should be outlined in a linear fashion. “Most of the jobs that we have happen this way,” she added. “When I train a guy, I’m always going to use a linear sequence because I want the job done step by step by step.”

The protocol should include task descriptions, steps and desired outcomes. As mentioned in the first article of this series, people can mentally handle six key steps at a time.


Kraft recommended keeping this in mind when developing a protocol. If there are more than six key items, create subsets under various steps.

Know your audience to decide how much detail to share or leave out. Identifying scientific terminology is not nearly as important as grasping the concept, she said.

Once the protocol is set, she will distribute it to the employees it is meant for in various ways to capture all learning abilities.

First, it will be announced and read through at a team meeting. Second, it will be demonstrated either one-on-one in person, through a video or in a class.

Third, the protocol is printed in a large, easy-to-read type – dated and colour-coded to ensure it is the most recent, laminated and hung at eye level in the working area of the task.

To see that employees understand the protocol, they should be asked to do each step. That allows time for evaluation and to provide feedback.

In addition to explaining the protocol, you must share why the protocol is set the way it is. “If you don’t explain that to the guys, the guys will help you with your protocol because you weren’t very smart about how you were putting this together. They will change it in about the course of two weeks,” Kraft said.

It is the middle manager’s job to help keep the protocol as it was written. Knowing the why also helps this person be part of the problem-solving.

Do not fear that you will no longer be needed. “Your job is to work yourself out of a job,” she said. “You’ve taught your middle manager how to think like you would, which frees you up for other businesses, other opportunities, other activities that need to happen at your place.”

Overcome obstacles to communication
Even the best-written protocols can fail if not communicated properly. Kraft recommended three different ways to communicate with employees:

1. Drive-through communication – Have the employee repeat it back.
2. OREO cookie approach – Place a compliment on either side of negative feedback.
3. Eat an elephant – Give small, chewable pieces of information at a time.

There are also a number of challenges in communication, Kraft said, which can include language, culture, time, lack of motivation, past history, attitude and knowledge.

Language – Consider use of a translator. Attend a language school. Provide employees with life skills classes through a community or a local school. Most importantly, understand it’s a lack of vocabulary, not intelligence, she said.

Culture – Spend some time in their shoes by traveling to their home country.

Time – You will never have time for meetings, therefore they must be scheduled to make them happen. Meetings are intended for exchange of information and should occur routinely on a dairy.

Lack of motivation – Not everyone is a motivated individual. What motivates each person can differ. Money is not the only factor in motivation.

A lot of times it is that they feel you respected them and that you valued them. The only way they know that is if you communicate it back to them.

Past history – People learn better from an experience than from being told or shown what to do. Negative learning experiences from the past, perhaps something from the classroom at a young age, could block a person’s ability to learn in a classroom now.

Attitude – Watch your attitude, yours and theirs. If you’re doing things that demonstrate your attitude, it will be picked up by those around you. Make sure the face that you have is the face you want them to receive.

Knowledge – Capitalize on some of the knowledge an employee brings to the position, but be sure to outline that protocols must not be altered to mirror that of another dairy without prior approval.

If someone is lacking the knowledge to perform a certain skill with cattle, contact a veterinarian or consultant to design a class for you. To enhance human management skills, consider a class at the local university.

Hold regular meetings
Kraft said she holds weekly meetings with all of the farms’ managers. These meetings last for one hour and not only provide her with information on what is happening in different areas of the dairies, but also give her another opportunity for training.

The meeting begins with each manager giving a report on their respective area. This helps to develop skills for organization, prioritization, record-keeping, public speaking and group leadership.

It also helps to develop a team mentality, she said. Everybody now knows other parts of the system and can have empathy for one another. They can work together to solve problems.

According to Kraft, it is important to have the managers evaluate what the problems are and how they became problems. They should also suggest solutions and recognize how it affects other areas on the farm.

Meetings also involve five to 15 minutes of training as well as safety information.

By developing protocols and communicating them effectively with the help of meetings, both you and the middle manager should be more comfortable with the new role they will fill.  PD