Read the Progressive Dairy Canada digital edition

Prioritize natural talents to reorder the seating assignments on your dairy bus

Greg Squires for Progressive Dairy Published on 03 October 2021

Yes, this business and financial consultant is writing another article regarding human resource management. I’ve received numerous questions from clients and industry friends who are curious about why I (a numbers guy) seem to be so interested in human capital.

Quite honestly, it’s because I believe this dynamic has paramount importance to the success of your businesses. Every one of the thousands of procedures and processes that must be correctly and consistently completed every day on a dairy is entrusted to the hands and mind of a member of your team. As you have heard me say many times, you as owners owe it to yourselves to harvest as much fruit from these labors as possible.



Every business has any number of roles (a collection of various tasks and responsibilities) which are required to complete its essential functions. Likewise, every business has a staff of employees (including the owners) who have one or more roles for which they are responsible. For the purposes of this conversation, let’s think of an employee as being a collection of skills, talents and passions (STPs).

These inter-related components which contribute to successful business function can become very complicated. We sometimes realize that an employee who failed miserably at caring for and feeding baby calves could later shine after being developed into a cropping manager. This is a great example of one of the many reasons we see high employee turnover on some dairy farms. We didn’t hire a “poor” employee – instead we hired an employee (a collection of STPs) to fulfill a role (a collection of various tasks and responsibilities) for which they were less-than-ideally suited. In other words, the employee was almost set up from the beginning to underperform because he or she did not find the role to be personally fulfilling or perhaps did not have the skills to notice when calves were just at the edge of becoming clinically ill.

Why are we discussing STPs?

These three personal attributes (skills, talents, passions or STPs) combine to have a compelling influence on an employee’s job success, as determined by both the employee and the employer. Talents typically refer to abilities a person is born with, an aptitude that comes naturally. Skills are those abilities which can be acquired, learned, practiced and developed. Passions are those activities, objects and concepts for which we have strong liking and devotion. When a person is fortunate enough to be working in a role that matches their skills and talents, job performance and satisfaction can be optimal. If their role places them in a work environment which allows them to follow their passions, the outcomes can also be incredibly fulfilling.

I have a personal friend who works in an industry very different from agriculture. Almost every time we are together, he asks me about my work. He confessed a long time ago that he has always been fascinated, and even a little envious, when he listens to me describe my various clients, their businesses and the work I do on their behalf. He sees an unfamiliar level of enthusiasm and energy in my face and expression. Unfortunately, those are emotions he finds very foreign in relation to his work and profession.

Most of you can readily associate with the value of having passion for your chosen vocation. Most of my clients over the years have professed their fondness for being stewards of the land and animals they manage as part of their business. Those feelings are often accompanied by a statement along the lines of “and this is how I want to raise my family.” To me, these kinds of feelings and emotions are clearly indicative of following one’s passions.


This dynamic has implications for succession planning

I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a lot of family discussions regarding succession planning, including managerial succession. It is not at all uncommon for the next-gens to be willing to express their areas of interest, especially when asked. Sometimes the process will evolve to their being able to naturally elevate to the role or roles which conform to their STPs.

Unfortunately, birth order is sometimes the determiner based on chronological entry into the business and the needs of the business at that particular moment. Other times, it simply becomes a process of picking someone to fill a role no one else wants. As you can see, the managerial succession planning process can clearly benefit from a proactive process of optimally aligning STPs with roles for both non-owner employees as well as owners.

It could be time to take an inventory of talents to get everyone in their best seat on the bus

Have you ever considered asking your new employee about their job interests, personal goals and STPs? Experience tells me this is not very common among most dairy operations. Many of you would probably be inclined to tell me that this is one of my “soft and fuzzy” recommendations. Sourcing, hiring, training, developing and retaining capable employees has been a top three management challenge on dairy farms for a couple decades and has become an even greater challenge in recent years. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve seen several particularly strong management teams slide toward “hiring warm bodies” out of sheer necessity. These HR dynamics only magnify the benefit of maximizing employee effectiveness and retention.

Taking an inventory of STPs can help ensure your team is working in areas where each member is leveraging their STPs to the maximum benefit of the business. Imagine a sheet of paper with two columns: one on the left – a listing of the various processes, protocols, reports, tasks, etc., required to fully support your management system (including those you may not be currently employing); on the right – a listing of each employee and their STPs. I fully realize this exercise is too robust for just one sheet of paper, but I believe this concept can help brainstorm toward more efficient alignment of roles and responsibilities.

This improved alignment can result in greater effectiveness of the team’s collective effort while simultaneously putting your staff and co-owners in more rewarding roles with greater personal satisfaction. Think about drawing lines from one side of the imaginary paper to the other side until eventually all the STPs are fully employed, and then look to see which roles and responsibilities are filled and if, in fact, there are any unfulfilled. That’s another benefit of this exercise: It will help you identify areas of management that are not fully resourced.

Just prior to brainstorming through an exercise very similar to what I just described, a family patriarch once asked me: “I believe that none of the next-gens feel passionate or particularly skilled to become our next CFO – what do we do, Greg, if in fact that plays out?” I asked him if there was some ancient law that says family or owners are required to fill every executive suite role in their business. If there are in fact unfulfilled roles or responsibilities, they can potentially become part of your next hires.


One word I feel best describes the power of consciously aligning STPs with roles and responsibilities is “synergy.” I am known to speak of synergies as several different dimensions, not the least of which is synergistic relationships and the incredible power they can bring to a business. Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) describes synergy as follows: “Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand. It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge.” I am absolutely convinced a stronger understanding of your STP inventory can create profound synergies among your team – now go see what you can create.  end mark

Greg Squires
  • Greg Squires

  • Dairy Enterprise Services
  • Email Greg Squires