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Now’s the time to focus on employee management

Peter Coyne Published on 20 November 2012

How will 2013 affect your employees?

For many dairy producers, 2013 may be a challenge as surging feed prices have driven the cost of production to new highs.

Are your workers aware of this situation? Do they understand your expectations or have they been receiving mixed messages during these stressful times? Who do they go to for answers when they have questions?

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Labour will play a key role as producers search for ways to manage expenses, control costs and add production to maximize the dairy’s profitability.

An engaged, knowledgeable workforce that has the ability to make day-to-day decisions will provide profit opportunities to the farm.

Well-run dairies have spent considerable time reducing stress and improving productivity for their businesses by organizing work and communicating openly and consistently with team members.

They seek and value input from employees. At the same time, expectations are clear and employees are accountable for their actions on the job.

Too often, I find owners that started the process of formally improving their employee management only to drop the process due to administrative cost increases, changing workers and the daily demands of the dairy.

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It’s important to realize that employee management is a process and change can take considerable time. But if key employees are involved and engaged in the changes, they become valuable resources in pushing forward in the process.

In the last few months, I’ve received numerous calls from producers who let employee management slip during the last couple years.

The reality is that, as dairies evolve, labour management must also evolve to meet the needs of the dairy. Winter is a great time to refocus and work to get your employee management in order.

Start with a positive attitude and allocate a couple of hours every week to the process. Be committed to setting and clearly communicating expectations to team members.

Setting goals and acknowledging when those goals are accomplished can maintain morale when the inevitable road blocks appear.

Get the right materials
Every business needs to have an employee handbook for legal protection and to have all policies, benefits, work expectations and general safety procedures in one place.

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Any questions that may come from employees should be covered in the employee handbook. Do you have an employee handbook? If so, is it up to date?

The next thing we need to work through is an organizational chart. Many dairies have multiple owners and managers. Who is responsible for what? Who should employees go to with questions? These items are all covered in an organizational chart.

I have seen outdated or incomplete organizational charts lead to communication gaps and worker hostility. The organizational chart should be pulled out every three to six months and reviewed – if things have changed, it needs updating.

When building your organizational chart, I suggest that owners and top managers take the first run at the project. This process can be a bit complicated as you map out who belongs where.

This may give employees the false impression that you are not clear on everyone’s responsibilities. Once you have a general outline, bring in more employees for input.

Job descriptions are also essential. A quality job description template should always include the job title, job summary, key responsibilities, minimum expectation and physical requirements of the job

. It should also have a disclaimer stating that it is a summary – not all-inclusive – of what needs to be done.

Put some thought into the job description so it is truly the document you want it to be. Many times, it’s a living document that’s amended as time passes.

Keep an electronic version on hand so that you can make adjustments. During performance reviews, reference the job description and note if it needs any changes.

Setting the 24/7 clock
Once you are to this point, refining and organizing work becomes possible. The 24/7 clock allows all necessary tasks to be put into specific slots.

Start by listing all the major tasks that take place daily, weekly, bi-weekly and monthly. Reproduction shots are scheduled tasks that need to be done on specific days but not every day.

Fresh cow care, breeding, parlour maintenance and sick cow assessment all need to be done each day but may vary in the amount of time needed to perform the job. Vet check, dryoff and hoof trimming should all be done on a specific day but may be flexible depending on when other tasks need to be done.

A schedule like this is helpful because it spreads out labour-intensive projects throughout the week. That way, you avoid tasks like hoof trimming on a heavy breeding day.

Again, as the farm evolves, your schedule should be reviewed and updated to best fit the system. Include mid-managers in the early processes and then bring other team representatives or employees to be sure they agree with the plan.

This in itself can encourage employees to work together and resolve conflict. When team members know they have some skin in the game, they typically respond with increased performance.

We often run into situations where someone else is responsible for tasks like pushing feed but the herdsman isn’t happy with how the job is done, so he just decides to do it himself.

That creates a bottleneck in the schedule. If that happens, it’s time to re-evaluate training, the organizational chart and what’s best for the cows.

Plot all tasks on a seven-day calendar broken into one-hour increments. For example, if the herdsman milks fresh cows from 7 to 8 a.m. each day and fresh cow assessment is done after that, block out one hour for milking and one hour for assessment and any treatments.

If the herdsman really needs until 10 a.m. because he usually pushes feed and eats breakfast after milking, make schedule adjustments so cows are locked up less than an hour. He may need to eat at a different time or someone else may need to push feed.

The 24/7 clock can be set up for different areas of the dairy as well. For example, providing the feeders with a 24/7 clock will provide consistency to cows so feeding takes place at the same time each day.

Things may go well during the week but drop with the weekend feeder and pick up again on Monday. In no time, we have swings in feeding times and dry matter intakes. The 24/7 clock can be used as a training tool for the relief feeder.

Worth the investment
These management processes will take time – be patient and don’t attempt too much at once. The time investment will be worth it. When we understand and monitor labour cost and performance at it relates to labour efficiency, we can have a significant effect on our margins and profitability.  PD

Peter Coyne

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