The following article is the fourth in a series of articles summarizing the “Supervisory Skills for Managers” DVD collection produced by Jim Henion. The series provides helpful management hints for owners and managers working with employees on dairy operations. Dr. Edward Deci of the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences at the University of Rochester tells us, “Motivation means you have energy to behave in a certain way and that you have a sense of direction for that behavior.”

One of the common questions expressed by farm managers is this: “How can I motivate the people who work for me to follow our protocols, to work as a team, to come to work on time, etc.?” Dr. Deci answers this way, “The question ‘How can I motivate another person?’ assumes an individual’s motivation comes from outside of them and is determined by someone else. Motivation, however, does not come from another person.”

He continues, “Intrinsic or self-motivation is all about doing something because it’s really interesting and compelling to you. You take action because you feel a sense of satisfaction as you engage in the activity.

“We think the environment an employee is working in is very important not because it motivates him or her, but because it creates the conditions that allow them to motivate themselves.”

Dr. Bernie Erven, an Ohio State professor emeritus and human resource specialist, provides further insight. He tells us, “Motivation is about needs. If you can just figure out what each employee needs, satisfy those needs through their jobs and then reward them, employees will be self-motivated. It is an individual’s needs that drive their motivation.”


What do employees want from their work? To get a handle on these ideas about creating an environment where employees will be self-motivated, let’s take a look at what employees want or expect when they accept a job to work on your farm.

In his book, First Things First author Steven R. Covey offers a plan for a rewarding life (and job). He suggests every person has a basic desire “to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy.”

Tom Thompson of Stotz Dairy in Buckeye, Arizona, calls these “the four L’s.” He says, “By ‘LIVING,’ we want our employees to have a safe work environment. We want them to come to work, do their jobs and feel safe. “In the context of ‘LOVE,’ we want our employees to feel wanted and part of a winning team they can be proud of.

“We provide many educational opportunities which fulfill employees’ need to ‘LEARN.’ Whether it’s helping our Hispanic employees to learn English on a weekly basis or having someone come out and teach them how to do their jobs better, we believe in constant education.

“And finally, for the ‘LEGACY’ part, I think all of us would like to go through life feeling we are making an impact. When we achieve our goals, our employees can feel a part of the success.”

Creating a motivating work environment

Bernie Erven told us, “An individual’s ‘needs’ are what drives their motivation.” Edward Deci added, “The environment an employee is working in creates the conditions that allow him or her to be intrinsically motivated.” With this in mind, what are some actions a farm manager can take to create an environment where employees will be self-motivated?

Build relationships through communication.

Relationships occur between two people when they engage in conversations. Over time, each person learns about the other and begins to know what is important to them as individuals. John Noble of the Linwood Management Group, LLC in Linwood, New York, tells us, “When I meet employees in the course of the day, I speak to them. It doesn’t sound like much, but it really makes an impression on people when their supervisor or co-worker acknowledges their presence.

“I have heard of situations where the manager or the boss will just grunt when he walks by. That sets the tone for that employee for the whole day.” Art Marquez of Marquez Dairy LLC in Chino, California, comments, “Even if you are more of an introverted person, you need to learn to talk with employees and build relationships that come from conversations. You don’t have to be buddy-buddy with everyone. But if you’re dealing with people, you’ve got to communicate.”

Provide opportunity for feedback and input.

In addition to ordinary communications, employees also need to know how they are doing. They need to be given opportunity to offer suggestions and input. Sean Jones of Jones Family Farm in Massey, Maryland, comments, “You need to be able to listen to employees’ ideas and give them the respect they deserve. “If you shoot them down every time they offer an idea, the next time they are going to be hesitant to speak up.”

Provide workable and safe equipment.

Jesse Koopman of WestPoint Farms in Wendell, Idaho, adds, “As owners, we like things organized. We like the facility to be neat. We want our equipment to be running properly. And, we want our farm environment to be safe. “When something is broken, we fix it. If a piece of equipment is missing a guard, we replace it. If there is trash on the ground, we pick it up.”

Offer compliments and provide recognition.

Dairy Producer Hugh Weathers of Bowman, South Carolina, observes, “Everyone wants to do a good job. As a result, I believe they are more motivated when they feel like I notice the good things they are doing, and tell them so.”

Don’t be a grumpy boss.

Joe Statz of Statz Bros. Inc. in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, says, “If an employee comes up to you and can tell in your voice you are already mad about something, they will not be comfortable talking to you. However, if they come up to you and sense you are in a good mood, the conversation will go better even though you might say the same things.”

The carrot-and-stick motivational method

There has been a great deal written about the carrot (hope of gain) and stick (fear of loss) methods of motivating people. We asked farm managers which they believe to be more effective.

Hank Wagner of Wagner’s Farm in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, responds, “I don’t think fear is the right button to push to motivate people. I think leaders ‘pull’ their people instead of ‘pushing’ them.”

Lamar Anthony of Anthony’s Dairy in Americus, Georgia, comments, “I’ve been on some farms where they assume if an employee doesn’t work out, they will just go out and hire another one. As a result, they drive their people with negative comments assuming, ‘Either he’s going to do a better job, or I’m going to send him down the road.’

“I feel if the person has some potential, I would rather work with him and uncover his motivation to do a better job. I just think positive motivation works better than negative motivation.” Hank Wagner concludes, “As supervisors, we need to find out what’s really important to an individual employee. We need to learn about their goals and find out what they really want to accomplish. Then, provide a working environment where they can achieve their goals by working on your farm. That’s how employees become self-motivated to do a great job.” PD