Focus on Employee Management – Peter Coyne

Posted on April 10, 2013 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Peter Coyne, Vita Plus dairy field service specialist

As things warm up, our farms are getting busy once again with spring cleaning, field work and more.  While the nicer weather might boost our moods, the approaching busy season can also be a stressful one.  That’s when labor management becomes so important.

Labor plays a key role as you search for ways to manage expenses and maximize profitability.  An engaged, knowledgeable workforce with the ability to make day-to-day decisions will provide profit opportunities for your farm.

Well-run calf operations have spent considerable time reducing stress and improving productivity by organizing work.  They seek and value input from employees.  At the same time, expectations are clear and employees are accountable for their actions.

This is a great time to refocus and get your employee management in order.  Start with a positive attitude and allocate a couple hours every week to the process.  Recognize that employee management is a process and change can take considerable time.  Keep moving forward.  Setting goals and acknowledging accomplishments can maintain morale when the inevitable road blocks appear.

Get the right materials
Having the right documents in place is essential to good employee management.  Here are a couple priorities:

  • Employee handbook:  Every business needs an employee handbook for legal protection and to have all policies, benefits, work expectations and general safety procedures in one place.
  • Organizational chart:  Many dairies have multiple owners and managers.  Who is responsible for what?  Who should employees go to with questions?  The organizational chart ensures the right people are in place to carry out each farm responsibility.
  • Job descriptions:  A quality job description should always include the job title, job summary, key responsibilities, minimum expectations and physical requirements of the job.  It should also have a disclaimer stating that it is a summary – not all-inclusive – of what needs to be done.

These materials should not be static documents.  Review them regularly and make changes to keep them up-to-date.

Setting the 24/7 clock
The 24/7 clock allows all necessary tasks to be put into specific slots.  A schedule like this is helpful because it spreads out labor-intensive projects throughout the week.  It can also be a valuable training tool for new or relief workers.

Start by listing all the major tasks that take place daily, weekly, bi-weekly and monthly.  Plot all tasks on a seven-day calendar broken into one-hour increments.  Be realistic about all activities, including breaks, meals and other “quick tasks” an employee may add to his or her schedule.  Make scheduling adjustments accordingly.

Worth the investment
Employee management can be one of the most difficult responsibilities of a farm owner.  We often run into situations where someone else is responsible for a task, but a manager decides he or she is not satisfied with the work and just adds the responsibility to his or her list.  That creates a bottleneck in the schedule.  If that happens, it’s time to re-evaluate training, the organizational chart and the 24/7 clock to do what’s best for the cows.

These management processes will take time; be patient and don’t attempt too much at once.  The time investment will be worth it.  When we monitor labor efficiency, we can have a significant effect on our profitability.

This article was originally written for Progressive Dairyman in October 2012.  

Category: Employee management
Starting Strong - Calf Care