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The best gift you can give your employees

Bob Milligan Published on 01 December 2014

Put yourself in this situation. Your son, your daughter, another family member or a friend has just decided to become a member of a school or other sports team. As you think of them beginning this new adventure, what would you like for them to find as they join the team?

Focus on what you hope they find as they join the team, not the end product of a winning season.



The following are what I would hope for in this situation:

  • They have teammates with the necessary skills and experience to compete at whatever level the team is playing.

  • The coaching staff has the skill, experience and motivation to bring out the best, individually and as a team, in each team member.

Now think about why I have asked you this question.

The answer is that you as the owner and leader of your dairy are similarly assembling a team, in this case your work force.

It is you who are responsible for providing my two hopes for each member of your team – your work force. You are the one that recruits, selects and hires the members of the team to meet my first hope.

You, your partners and other supervisors are the coaching staff. You are the ones responsible for bringing out the best in each of your employees. What then can your employees, who are hoping they have a great experience working for you, expect of you?


Let me suggest that what they should expect of you is that you do the best job you can do as a recruiter, leader and supervisor. This brings us to the title of the article: What is the best gift you can give your employees?

My answer is: The best gift you can give your employees is to continually improve as a recruiter, leader, supervisor and coach.

Below, we answer two questions. First, what can I do to continuously improve? Second, where should I focus to bring out the best in my employees?

What can I do to continuously improve?

In our industry, we focus on learning about animals, crops and machinery but rarely think about or focus on how to be a better recruiter, leader, supervisor or coach. This mindset needs to change as our world becomes more complex, increasingly turbulent and requires a more highly skilled work force.

In learning and in implementing what we learn, we must keep in mind the three differences between people and animals, plants and machinery:

1. People can think, so they can make decisions.


2. People can speak, so they can ask questions, provide feedback and provide new ideas.

3. People have feelings, so our actions impact their motivation, attitudes and performance.

Let me suggest that improving as a recruiter, leader, supervisor and coach requires the following:

  • Establish recruitment, leadership, supervision and coaching as priorities. Over time, we have moved from being reactive to being proactive in managing animals, plants and machinery.

    We must similarly move from being reactive to being proactive in developing our work force.

  • Learn. Opportunities to learn to become a better recruiter, leader, supervisor and coach are not as obvious in our ag sector as are opportunities to learn about animals and plants.

    In fact, there are even more opportunities for these topics, as they are not confined to our industry. Resources are virtually unlimited in the form of seminars, books, webinars, websites, newsletters, blogs, etc. Please contact me for advice on where to look or to assist you.

  • Practice what you are learning. Changing what you do as a leader, supervisor and coach is especially difficult because it requires changing your behaviour.

    It is crucial to practice what you have learned. The behaviour change aspect is why I am so enthusiastic about blended learning opportunities that involve many interactions including the classroom, the Internet and one-on-one interactions.

Where should I focus to bring out the best in my employees?

I think this question is a stumbling block for many owners. We often hear: “We don’t know what we don’t know.” These areas are so new for many dairy managers, that this saying often applies.

I suggest the following focus areas for your continuous improvement:

1. Hiring – Coaching a team that does not have sufficient talent to compete against the competition they face is frustrating, with virtually no chance of success.

Your work force is no different. Priority must be placed on implementing recruitment and selection processes that are professional and lead to hiring employees who will succeed.

2. A passionate work force – Researchers in the field of organizational behaviour have developed great insights into how to motivate employees and develop a business that facilitates the development of a passionate work force.

3. “Chalk the field” – It is my observation, supported by research, that the vast majority of employees have very little idea what is actually expected of them. Clarity about what is expected, both in behaviour and performance, is critical to a “winning” work force.

4. Feedback – I have never met a plant that responded to feedback – good or bad. People, however, not only respond to feedback, most crave it and all require it for performance improvement.

Using the optimal quantity of high-quality positive, redirection and negative feedback is critical to employee performance and job satisfaction.

A final observation

A lot has been discussed above. Remember, however, the most important key to success as a recruiter, leader, supervisor and coach is to make your work force and their continuous improvement a priority.  PD

Bob Milligan is a professor emeritus, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University.

Bob Milligan
  • Bob Milligan
  • Senior Consultant
  • Dairy Strategies LLC