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Do You Direct or Correct?

Chuck Schwartau

Published in Dairy Star October 14, 2006

A few years ago, Robert Fulgham wrote the popular book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The book spoke about leadership and was based on 16 fairly simple concepts that leaders should employ.

I was reminded of this book the second day of the recently started school year because my wife, Carol, is a kindergarten teacher. She described a situation on the school playground where she and other teachers were taking their small charges to the playground in a large group for the first time.

As Carol took the group outside together on to the playground, calmly and nicely in line, the first apparatus they came to was the slide. Carol asked if they knew how to go down the slide. Several responded with answers like, "sitting down; feet first; one at a time; don't try walking up the slide; etc." These were all good and appropriate answers. She then lined them up and took the entire class, one at a time, through the exercise of going down the slide the proper way. They now know how it should be done properly and safely.

A short time later, Carol observed another class coming out of the school building toward the playground. Almost immediately, the class took off at a run, students heading for any and every piece on the playground. This was quickly followed by "Don't do that!" as the teacher shouted at the first child trying to walk up the slide the wrong way. That teacher had virtually lost the entire class in six different directions before the playground period started, and was left with the task of trying to control them and correct improper behaviors right away.

How do you suppose the students of those two teachers told their parents about their first days of school? "I learned how to play safely on the playground," or "All our teacher did was tell us not to do this and not to do that."

How do you handle new employees on your farm? Like those teacher situations, do you take the time to thoroughly explain to them was is expected and why it is important; or do you turn them loose and then spend unnecessary time later following up, correcting improper behaviors, fixing mistakes and losing valuable management time?

In which scenario would your employees feel valued and appreciated and in which one would they feel like "all the owner/manager does is complain and tell me what I am doing wrong?"

Whether it is for new employees, or for existing employees being given new tasks, a good and complete orientation to the tasks before turning them loose on their own can make a big difference in both their performance and how they feel at the end of the day. Thoroughly explain not only the job or procedure, but also the reasons and the importance of it to the smooth operation of the entire farm. Employees often don't realize how their seemingly small or unimportant task fits into the big picture and how their work impacts the work of others. If a new employee does a poor job of cleaning and dressing stalls, they may not realize they are causing dirty cows, which may lead to more time cleaning cows in the parlor, potentially more udder infections and lost milk.

Children on a slide

Just as a teacher needs to make sure small children know how to go down a slide properly and safely, farm employers need to take the time to thoroughly explain to employees what is expected of them and the importance of those tasks to the smooth operation of the entire farm.

You must also remember, not everyone learns the same way. It is time well spent to both describe procedures and demonstrate them. Some people learn well by listening to descriptions and readily understand the processes while others are visual learners and do best when they can see the procedure, not just hear or read it. Also, let the learner then perform the task while you observe. If any corrections are necessary, make them calmly and immediately. Corrections made right away help prevent bad habits from forming. When training in this manner, be sure to let the employee do the work, not the trainer. As Martha Kelly, a professional trainer writes, "In any training you conduct, the learner should work harder than the facilitator." (Kelly, Martha. "Advanced Instructional Techniques: The Art of Facilitation." Training Course, 12-14 Nov. 2002).

If possible, team new employees assigned to new jobs with an employee who is experienced in the job as a mentor. When they have the opportunity to ask another person who is doing the same job or knows the job well, they are more likely to ask that person for clarification than of the owner/manager.

The bottom line is this. If you take the time to provide good orientation and training to your employees, it is more likely you will have satisfied employees who will stay with your farm longer. You play a major role in the success of your employees.

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