The following article is the third 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. As farms grow larger and profits become tighter, farm owners and managers are working harder to get all employees focused on a common set of goals and procedures. The foundation of this effort is the basic mission of the farm business.

Just what is a mission?

One farm owner answers this way. “Our ‘mission’ is simply the way we do things around here.”

Lamar Anthony of Anthony’s Dairy in Americus, Georgia, tells us, “One of the first things we tell employees when we hire them is our farm has a reputation for producing quality milk and that’s the way we want it done here. I try to give them a little pride in the way we do things around here.”

A mission statement is not something you just hang on the wall. Instead, it’s a way of working that lives and breathes inside the heart and mind of everybody on the farm.


Tom Thompson of Stotz Dairy in Buckeye, Arizona, tells us, “It’s our mission that motivates our troops. Every time an employee interacts with a cow, I want them to do everything they can to achieve our mission of helping that cow give as much milk as possible.”

Getting employees to buy-in to the mission

Once the farm defines its mission, how do owners and managers go about getting everybody on-board and working toward the same common goal? Thompson comments, “To get new employees to ‘buy-in’ to our mission, we continually expose them to our core values and work at it as we go along. “We have our goals, our vision and our core values posted throughout the dairy. They constantly appear on our computer screensavers and on posters. They are translated into English and Spanish. Our people see these and they understand what they are about.

“We also take great enjoyment not only in setting specific goals, but also in achieving them. When our achievements for top production are recognized at local annual meetings, we’ll have 15 employees go up and accept the awards. We want them to feel a part of our overall farm success because it is they who are the ones who create that success.”

Communicating expectations

Start by recognizing that people want to do a good job. Most farm managers agree that getting ‘buy-in’ starts with a simple belief on the part of owners and managers that people want to do a good job and they want to be part of a successful team that can achieve worthy goals.

Hank Wagner of Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, tells us, “I don’t know if I have ever seen anybody who wanted to fail. There’s a lot of failure that happens, but most people don’t want to be associated with failure. I think every single human wants to do a good job.”

Show and tell people what you expect. They can’t read your mind. Ted Boersma in Clovis, New Mexico, comments, “I think many times we assume our employees know what they’re supposed to do, but they really don’t. They busy themselves doing various tasks, but don’t seem to get the things done we want. Then, we become upset, failing to recognize we never told them what we wanted them to do.”

John Lundine of J-Bar Jerseys in Mesa, Arizona, adds, “Employees can’t read your mind. They’re not going to think ahead because they don’t know if that’s what you want. I find it’s important to take time with them so they do understand what you expect of them.”

The role of SOPs (standard operating procedures)

Lamar Anthony notes a recent article in one of the dairy magazines on the topic of procedural drift. He says, “In the article they said if you don’t keep coming back, focusing on the things you expect from your employees, there will be a ‘drift away’ from the standard procedures.”

Mike Mitchell in Portales, New Mexico, adds, “It seems like employees always follow the lead of the employee who cuts corners. So you have to spell out what you expect to be done in clear standard operating procedures.”

Train and retrain, constantly!

John Gilliland at McArthur Farms in Okeechobee, Florida, comments, “I used to believe that once I told an employee how I wanted a job done, I wouldn’t have to do it again. But now I know it doesn’t work that way.

“People don’t remember everything you tell them. So, day in, day out, train and remind people the proper way to do their jobs.”

John Noble of the Linwood Management Group, LLC in Linwood, New York, tells us, “They say it takes 28 days to make a habit. So one of the key tenets of managing people is being able to support, train, retrain and coach people in the habits you want. It’s all about repetition. We need to work with employees over and over again until we build the habits we want.

“The historical model is you do that with a baseball bat. However, the most effective approach is treating people as individuals and as quality members of the team. Continually retrain.”

Teach the why’s as well as the what’s

Marie Nye of Mountain View Dairy in Delta, Utah, explains, “They why is so very important when we develop protocols. What’s not printed but what is discussed in a meeting is why.”

Noble adds, “By and large, when people understand why they’re doing something, they’re much more motivated to do what you ask them to do.”

Let people make some mistakes. It’s how they learn. “In the world of managing people,” says Mark Mayo of Legrande, California, “One of the cold hard realities is you’re dealing with imperfection. People will make mistakes.”

Nye adds, “It’s terribly difficult to tell one of your employees, ‘You messed up!’ But it’s all in how you view it. You can look at the mistake as a teachable moment or you can fire the person. We prefer to use each mistake as an opportunity to teach and ask questions. We always ask, ‘What might you do differently, next time?’”

Micromanaging trap

What is a micromanager? This is a manager or supervisor who makes it a habit of wandering around, peering over shoulders and telling everyone the proper ways to do things.

Needless to say, this can be very annoying to all concerned. There is a fine line between paying attention to important details and micromanaging an operation to the point where managers and supervisors drive their people crazy.

According to John Shaller of Onalaska, Wisconsin, “Everybody likes to feel they have value. If they have to be told every step what to do, they feel like robots. Farm employees like to have some input, and I would too.”

Jon Wheeler of Oord Dairy in Sunnyside, Washington, adds, “You have to empower people. You have to let them use that empowerment to build self-confidence.

“If you don’t allow your employees to make some decisions on their own and then see what those decisions produce, they will never gain confidence in making decisions. Then, there will always be that hesitation and poor decision-making going on because people will not have the opportunity to build self-confidence.”

Author Steven Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) gets to the root of the micromanaging trap when he writes, “Don’t keep pulling up the flowers to see how the roots are coming.” PD