Conflict: Cows can be the easy part of farm management

Posted on July 31, 2015 in Dairy Performance
By Jack Hales and Barry Visser
The care and comfort of the cows is of utmost importance, but, some days, managing the cows is the easy part.  The biggest conflict from the cows’ perspective may be resolved by moving the dominant cow to another pen.

It’s not so easy with people.

Occasionally, “big picture” conflicts can arise on a farm due to things such as cultural differences, but most often conflicts are caused by factors such as opposing positions, power struggles, egos, pride, compensation issues or someone just having a bad day.

It has been reported that up to25 percent of a manager’s time can be spent handling conflict.  Because people on a farm are often close to each other, personal and work lives may be hard to separate.

Preventing conflict
Conflict, in some form, is guaranteed to occur in any business.  However, it is possible to prevent (or lessen) some workplace conflict from occurring with effective communication.  Most operations have farm manuals or written protocols in place.  These manuals provide great training for new employees and also a standard procedure for seasoned employees.

What we sometimes fail to include in these manuals are descriptions of acceptable employee behaviors.  Encourage team-building and leadership development.  Have clearly defined job descriptions; employees want to know – and need to know – what is expected of them on a day-to-day basis.  Clearly make it known what will be tolerated and what will not be.  Remember to be fair with your employees.

When conflicts do arise, these manuals should be updated to prevent similar issues in the future.  Engage your employees; get their input as you develop the best strategy to move forward.

Addressing conflict
If conflicts are managed correctly, they can actually help your farm grow and prosper.  In contrast, if you neglect conflicts, they can negatively impact employee morale, teamwork and turnover.  Legal issues could also arise.

Be calm.  Don’t argue or make accusations.  Use your listening skills to determine the root of the problem.

It is important to understand the employee’s position.  Identify each person’s reason or motive for conflict.  Also recognize and identify the personality styles of each person involved.  The best way to avoid conflict is to know what motivates your employees.

Research has identified several models of conflict management.  One model is “high activeness,” which is characterized by openly discussing the issue while still going after your own interest.  Another model is “high agreeableness.”  In this model, all parties involved discuss their differences of opinion.  This type is characterized by attempting to satisfy all parties involved.

In our experience, we have found the high agreeableness method to be extremely helpful on farms.  For example, it can be applied when defining specific procedures.  Several tasks on a dairy need to be done a certain way for a certain reason, but people also have a tendency to buy into the procedure if it is their own.  Thus, they will also become more efficient.

Learning from the conflict
Pick your battle and know when you need to intercede in a conflict.  If you do step in, make sure it gets resolved.  Negotiate a solution by making concessions.  When appropriate, this approach can also build employee respect.

In addition, when working with a team, agree to the problem.  Get your employees engaged so they can take ownership.  Look for possible solutions and then actively observe how your employees react to the decision.  The overall outcome has to fit the needs and goals of your farm.

Conflicts are unavoidable in the workplace and in everyone’s personal lives.  Timely resolution can be found among employees and owners if all involved are willing to change.  Be confident in your ability to deal with others and remember your rights as an employer.  Bring an open mind to a conflict discussion.

Finally, if all else fails and gaps cannot be closed, do not resort to playing favorites.  Be fair and consistent and do the right thing.

This article was originally written for the August 25, 2014 issue of Progressive Dairyman.  

About the authors:  Jack Hales is a dairy specialist in central Minnesota.  He graduated from the University of Minnesota-Daluth with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and has worked with dairy producers in his area since 1991.  He became a Vita Plus employee owner in 2009 and enjoys working closely with customers to help them analyze their costs from forages to labor.  When he’s not working, Hales has three grandsons that enjoying trying to keep their “gramps” out of trouble.

Barry Visser is a dairy technical specialist based in Minnesota.  He grew up on his family’s dairy farm in northwest Minnesota.  Visser received his bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Minnesota in 1994.  He worked as a dairy nutritionist for four years before returning to graduate school to earn his master’s degree in dairy cattle nutrition.  His research focused primarily on transition cows and minimizing pre- and post-calving metabolic challenges.  While a graduate student, Visser also worked as an assistant herdsman for the University of Minneosta St. Paul dairy herd.  At Vita Plus, Visser works with fellow employee owners to troubleshoot farm nutrition, forage quality and management challenges.

Category: Dairy Performance
Employee management