"Chalking the Field" for Your Dairy's Management Team
Just as groundskeepers need to chalk the boundaries on the athletic field, dairy farmers need to 'chalk the field' to help keep themselves and everyone working on their farm focused on where they want to take their dairy business.
Dr. Robert Milligan, formerly of Cornell University and now affiliated with Dairy Strategies, LLC, uses the phrase 'chalking the field' when talking about whether or not a team of owner/managers and employees on a dairy farm know what the business is about, where it is intended to go and how it intends to get there.
Milligan borrows the term from sports. Teams and coaches do a better job of playing the game together when they all play by the same rules and know boundaries of the field on which they are playing – what is fair play and what is out of bounds. 'Chalking the field' helps set those parameters. It sets the boundaries and establishes a level playing field for everyone involved.
This same concept is important for dairy farms wherever more than one person is involved in the management and operation of the farm. Just as the league policies or the coaches set the rules for the game and outline the playing field, dairy managers need to make known the 'rules' of working on a dairy. Those rules may actually be expectations of what the farm is to achieve and general guides of how to get there. Given these outlines, the managers and the employees can better work together to achieve established, common goals. They can focus their efforts on achievement rather than problem solving.
What are some of the rules that 'chalk the field'?
- Employees need to know the vision, mission, core values and goal of the farm. Be sure to share these with employees. Refer to them often when working with employees to implement new procedures or strategies on the farm.
- Policies, work rules and consequences for failure must be clear. These are not meant to be a hammer hanging over one's head, but they provide a level against which all employees are evaluated. Employees then know what is expected and they should know that everyone is treated fairly in evaluation. Expectations may vary somewhat based on skills necessary for a job and experience in the job, but when there are differences, they are clearly conveyed.
- Processes and standard operating procedures (SOPs) help convey to employees what is expected by the owner/managers. Ideally the employees will have a role in developing the SOPs so they feel valued on the farm and so they have some ownership of the SOPs. Employee involvement will make SOPs much easier to implement on the farm. SOPs will also ensure that the tasks are always performed in the same manner, regardless of who is carrying them out. If anyone fails to follow established SOPs, they provide a guide for further training and coaching, or discipline if necessary.
- Performance expectations can be set at two or more levels. There should be minimum accepted performance expectations of what must be done to keep the farm operating smoothly. There can also be higher performance goals which enhance the performance of the farm as a whole and can help move the farm to that next level.
- Rewards go with performance expectations. Employees have every right to expect fair compensation for a job that meets expectations. But a variety of rewards for performance above and beyond the expectations encourage employees to look for better ways to perform their work as well as enhance the productivity and profitability of the farm.
Rewards don't all have to be monetary. It may vary all the way from "Thanks for doing a job well," to a small cash bonus, or an extra farm uniform. If it was a group effort, a farm sponsored picnic can recognize the effort and maybe even include employees' family members in the celebration of achievement. Whatever form the reward takes, it shows appreciation for employees who care about the farm and do their best work on behalf of the whole farm. Work to keep rewards appropriate for the performance, and make sure the employees know to what results or behavioral change the reward is related.
- Finally, lead by example. This means that the leadership on a farm lives and works by the same rules as everyone else on the farm. The owner/managers need to live by the vision, mission and core values, and keep them in mind as management decisions are made. When everyone works under the same set of expectations, the team becomes stronger.
These are just a few of the concepts that 'chalk the field' for employees and employers on a dairy farm. They provide a basis on which much more can be built as the team members gain other skills and trust in each other.
['Chalking the field' is just one of the many tools being adapted for use with dairy farmers in Minnesota to bring operational excellence to dairy farm management and help assure they have a future in the changing Minnesota dairy industry. Regional Extension Educators and Farm Business Management advisors around the state are working with Dairy Strategies, LLC, on pilot farms to fine tune their skills and other management tools. The goal is to take the experiences learned on the pilot farms and apply them on more dairy farms desiring to develop management skills for the future.]
Published in Dairy Star September 10, 2005