I won’t say that you should treat your employees like cattle, but there are some good reminders for managing employees from the role of a cowboy moving cattle. Like them, your job is to ride herd. The most effective cowboys would say that involves the following responsibilities:
Set the direction
Keep all employees focused on the goals and where the operation needs to be heading.
Set the pace
Communicate how fast you want them to work and what your time frame is for achieving goals. Help all of them to work at that pace, just like you might encourage the slowpokes to keep up with the herd.
Round up the strays
Rein in those who think they have a better plan than you do or that they know better. Listen to them, evaluate their ideas and be willing to change, but always communicate your decisions.
Keep the herd from becoming distracted along the way
It is easy to get distracted and take your eyes off the goals, but an effective cowboy pushes the herd on so they don’t dwell on the distraction and get sidetracked.
Keep the herd from panic
Likewise, keeping your team from panic requires pushing them past the cause of the distress, reminding them of the direction they are heading.
Go ahead and open the gates or remove obstacles
As your team works, there are things that need to be done to keep them working. Anticipate bottlenecks or needs, and work to relieve them in advance.
Allow the cows freedom to move about as long as they are with the herd
Riding the herd doesn’t mean micromanagement or relentlessly pressing them too hard; rather, a good manager knows that freedom is necessary as well.
Be aware of their needs for refreshment
A herd of cattle needs grazing, water and rest. Your employees have needs as well. Provide for them; make sure they have opportunity to rest sufficiently during the week and provide for times of rejuvenation. When you do, your employees will be better able to work for you.
Finally, take time to play your harmonica
When night falls on the cattle drive, some cowboys pull out a musical instrument to sooth the herd. What can you do to provide comfort, relaxation and even cheer to your employees?
It's a long haul!
Farming is akin to a long cattle drive. Every day is an opportunity to interact with your team, to encourage them, remind them, help them and come alongside of them. Will you cowboy up to those roles?
Phil Durst is a senior educator in dairy and beef cattle health and production with Michigan State University Extension. Email Phil Durst.