How do you make a good dairy a great dairy? Is it adopting all the latest gadgets that are introduced? Is it changing protocols all the time to stay on top? Neither of these are the answer for Jim Collins, author of the best-selling book, Good to Great. His answer is to focus on: “First who, then what.”

What the heck does that mean? It means that to be a truly great business, the leadership should focus on who is part of the team rather than what the business will do (see Table 1). This is a hugely important conclusion and powerful insight for the leadership of the expanding progressive dairy. The fact is that even though there are so many new technologies that are introduced to simplify management, these technologies won’t correct having the wrong people as part of the team.

First who, then what – A dairy example

How important is this principle? Think about all the protocols and procedures that need to be followed on your dairy. This is the “what.” Now think about the people on your dairy who are responsible for implementing the protocols. This is the “who.” Let’s take a synchronization protocol for example.

Imagine a dairy that uses a presynch/ovsynch protocol (the “what”) that is implemented by a breeder (the “who”). What is the biggest impact of whether that protocol works? It’s compliance with the protocol. What has the biggest impact on compliance? It’s the person doing the job. Is your team member skilled, ambitious and passionate about compliance with the protocol?


Compare the breeder who is 95 percent compliant with the 5-shot (PG & GnRH) protocol compared to 100 percent compliant. The impact of a 5 percent difference is huge. For the breeder who is 95 percent compliant with the protocol to identify cows and giving shots accordingly, only 77 percent of the cows are correctly treated. For the breeder who is determined to achieve 100 percent compliance, then 100 percent of cows are correctly treated. The breeder at 95 percent compliance misses 23 out of a 100 cows, while the breeder internally driven to do his best misses none. Even though we had the right “what,” it doesn’t work without the right people implementing it.

A similar example would be two dairies – one using the most up-to-date synchronization protocols and the other relying on natural heat detection. If the dairy relying on natural heats has a dedicated staff that is committed to getting it done, and the dairy relying on synchronization is only 95 percent compliant, generally the one with the more committed and diligent employees is going to have a better end result, even though they might not be utilizing the most up-to date technologies (the “what”).

How much time do you spend managing people to correctly treat or detect that group of missed cows? Wouldn’t you rather spend your time on other parts of the operation or in your personal life? Don’t you value that employee who seems to need no management, and always beats your expectations – regardless of “what” they are supposed to be doing?

Many have tried to turn the 95 percent guy into a 100 percent guy through incentives and rewards. However, business research has shown that it is character, skill and the internal passion to perform that really determines whether the 100 percent standard is achieved. So evaluate your team.

On the dairy team, choose people over technology

Your team also includes people outside your dairy employees. The idea of establishing dairy advisory teams has been gaining popularity recently. The use of small advisory teams (5 to 7 people) composed of dairy managers and external partners, like the veterinarian, nutritionist, or A.I./reproduction specialist can lead to more productivity and profit. When you make a choice of team members, do you focus on “what” the person has to offer or do you focus on “who” the person is? What is their character, their skill, their passion?

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have identified some of the things you should look for when choosing team members. What is clear is that the focus is on character and skill of the individual (the “who”), not just the tools, techniques, or products they bring (the “what”). (See Table 1.)

What are companies doing to respond?

When you choose a company to work with, what do you look for? This is very important, as that choice is really about who will be part of your team. Do you look for the latest gadgets, computer models or new products? These are the “what’s.” Or do you focus on the character of the individual you will work with?

It’s that level of high-quality people who will help take your dairy from good to great. Some companies are seeing this, and they are responding with rigorous recruitment and extensive training programs. This includes graduating people with the character, drive and passion from an exhaustive training program that focuses on equipping the people with the skill and knowledge to create value for your dairy. It’s about offering progressive dairy producers with a choice in not only working with companies that deliver quality products, but more importantly, quality people.

Drafting your team

So, when you draft your team and make decisions on who you will partner with, think about the principle of first who, then what. For many dairy operations that are expanding, being accurate 95 percent of the time is not good enough. The cost of that 5 percent is a hugely missed economic opportunity. The people you want to choose are skilled but also driven by a passion to eliminate 5 percent mistakes, and achieve 100 percent performance. It’s this focus that will help take your dairy from good to great. PD

References omitted but are available upon request at