Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on developing middle managers. The next article will discuss how to develop protocols and provide training. It will be followed by an article describing employee evaluations. As dairy operations reach a certain size, it is inevitable that the owners can’t be everywhere and do everything. Middle managers become a necessary and important part of the future of the farm.
Mary Kraft and her husband learned this lesson as they grew their 120-cow dairy into a 5,000-cow dairy operation at two locations in Fort Morgan, Colorado.
“We’re constantly training and we’re constantly trying to get people to make the same decisions that I would if I could be in all those places,” Kraft said as she showed aerial photos of Badger Creek and Quail Ridge Dairies at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) business conference this spring.
“You can see by the size of it, I can’t. Once you get that into your head that you do have to have some help, that you can delegate and you can build people who can make those same decisions, you become a really good manager that can move your facility forward.”
Working with middle managers requires a certain mindset from the owner. They will have to allow those individuals a lot of control in their business and its destiny. Kraft said placing that trust could be difficult because middle managers can make mistakes.
They also require a lot of communication but “you can’t live without them,” she said. “Without a middle manager, your business is stagnant and can’t grow.”
It has been said that a person cannot handle more than six choices at once. According to Kraft, the same thing is true for managing people; you can’t have more than six people under you. If there is more than that, you must develop at least one to be a middle manager.
With 75 full-time employees, middle managers were a necessity for Kraft but, when it came to hiring middle management, she couldn’t find or recruit managers. Therefore, she had to bring them up from within. Only two of the farms’ managers were brought from the outside; the rest were developed in-house.
There are two types of managers critical to dairying, Kraft said – cow managers and people managers. A cow manager does well at identifying, treating and managing animals. They can prioritize and execute plans; however, they tend to work alone.
“If you choose to be a cow manager, it’s very difficult to develop the people side of your business,” Kraft said.
People managers help others to develop skill sets and perform tasks. They work in teams and communicate constantly.
As the “conduit between everything,” middle managers must be able to communicate, she said. They have to deliver protocols set by senior management, discipline and reward employees and communicate with senior management, employees, suppliers and trainers. Middle managers know the operation’s goals and help keep workers in compliance with protocols.
Hiring middle managers
When hiring, look for the employee that has the potential to move to a new position or move forward in your operation.
“In all ethnicities there are people who are never going anywhere,” Kraft said. “If you are hiring these people, look at hiring a quality ingredient for the success of your business.”
Using a quote from Jim Collins’ Good to Great , “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and everyone in the right seat,” Kraft modified the situation to apply to dairy farms by instead suggesting a dairy is like a Scandinavian warship, which doesn’t move if everyone on board is not functioning as a team.
All oars need to be in the water and someone needs to keep a drumbeat so everyone rows together. There also needs to be a cook, a navigator and a captain. “Everyone has to participate in there, and if I put someone in the wrong spot we’re not going to be very successful,” she said.
Before you can hire or promote someone, you should figure out the structure needed for managers. Kraft suggested:
• Identify work areas on your dairy. These could be a maternity pen, a hospital unit, feeding, manure handling, maintenance, calf care, milking, youngstock, etc.
• Identify employee skill sets needed. For instance, Kraft found they needed an English-speaking person in the commodity area when there are a lot of commodity trucks coming in because the truck drivers couldn’t always handle the language barrier.
• Identify an employee’s desire to learn. “Not everybody is interested in growing,” she said.
• Identify the protocols for each area of management on your dairy. Put some direct thought into listing all activities and the order in which they need to happen, she added.
Because starting with the right ingredients is very helpful, Kraft likes to do all the hiring herself. She said she wants to see the whites of their eyes, notice how clean they keep themselves and find out if they can show up on time. Other things she looks for is if they are motivated, pay attention, ask questions when they don’t understand and have a positive attitude.
“If you sort out people as they are coming through the door, it will help you,” she said.
When it comes to sorting, Kraft said she likes to use the Penn State Shaker Box approach, sifting the excited people to the top and those that are just interested in a paycheck to the bottom.
Developing middle managers
“If there’s a problem on a dairy, it’s a problem with training,” Kraft said. It is an opportunity to go back and train again.
Some people avoid spending time training for fear the time will be wasted if an employee leaves. “They will leave – fact of life,” she said.
“Do not think if you train that they are staying with you forever,” she added. “They may stay with you for a short period of time. Make them the best doggone employee for that short period of time because that will pay off for you.”
In order for managers to understand what is being done, why it is being done and how it needs to be done, Kraft said she uses a multi-pronged approach to training. This consists of group trainings, daily interactions and written material.
She works with Colorado State University on training classes it offers. She suggests using extension or community college programs too. Suppliers might have company-sponsored training events or be available to serve as mentors. Participating in local dairy groups with other farms can also help.
Kraft has five or six employees she makes a point to talk with each day. She also comes across many others and is cautious of the body language she uses towards them, especially if she is angry because it can be infectious, she said.
Typically she simply stops and waves to say, “I saw you. I value you. Have a great day.” “You don’t have to stop and talk to communicate that,” she said.
Other daily interactions include on-the-spot training and roundtable meetings. Kraft is always looking for teachable moments, and if she sees one, she’ll work with the manager to bring the employees together for a training opportunity.
Sometimes the scenario will also be discussed in a meeting setting. She said their employee meetings only last 30 minutes. The first half is spent on how-to training, while the second half covers basic reminders or news.
In all forms of training, Kraft stressed the use of appropriate body language, giving positive rewards and providing consistency. “When they get it right, you tell them,” she said.
Self-teaching comes in the form of books, magazines and posters.
She said she likes for her managers to read The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader by John Maxwell, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. She will also provide audio versions for those that don’t read. She suggests that senior management read any book first before asking others to do so.
Bilingual magazines for the dairy industry are also used on her farms, including El Lechero , and there are posters hanging everywhere in both English and Spanish. Most product suppliers can provide these, she said.
By finding the right people, putting them in the right position and training them to do their job well, a dairy is well-positioned to begin moving forward with the use of middle managers. PD