Do You Have a Personal Professional Improvement Plan?
Many professionals develop and follow a professional improvement plan to keep themselves up to date. Some plans involve formal college or technical school studies while others revolve around less formal workshops and seminars. Even regular reading of journals and magazines related to their field keeps them abreast of what is happening in changing industries. As a dairy farmer, you are no less the professional than many of the people who provide services to you and your farm. You also need to keep up to date on the latest management systems that can make you a better dairy manager.
One factor in what we call "operational excellence" is having a professional development plan for everyone on the farm; that includes the management team as well as all the employees. The specific plan will be different for each category of manager or employee, and may be different for each person, depending on the skills and abilities he/she brings to the dairy.
A plan should provide answers to two questions:
- What is this person expected to do or contribute on the dairy?
- What skills or knowledge does this person need to add or hone in order to better meet those expectations?
A plan is probably best developed in a one to one discussion with the person. Such a visit also provides an opportunity for evaluation of his/her work and how he/she feels about it, while determining how to help the person be a better employee or manager.
Professional development planning meetings can help identify employees who may be candidates for advancement within the business. If a good employee shows interest in a different position that may have more responsibility, helping him/her develop or sharpen the necessary skills might be just the incentive necessary to keep that employee on your farm. Even if that person cannot move into a different role soon, recognition of his/her interest and a demonstrated willingness to help that person achieve higher goals will show you care about him/her as a person, not just a worker. By participating yourself in professional improvement, you demonstrate to others on the farm the value you place on improvement. You will lead by example.
A recent article by Dan Simmons in the Animal Science Monitor gave four additional good reasons for attending conferences that offer you or your employees professional improvement opportunities:
- Training - often thought of as the first reason to attend any conference or program;
- Networking - connect with other people of similar interests. This is where you learn of new opportunities and new ideas that might fit your farm.
- Other people's knowledge - pick their brains! If you have a situation you aren't quite sure how to address, it is very possible other people at a conference have faced the same issue. What you learn from their experience could be valuable.
- The opportunity to refresh yourself - Everyone needs a break from the routine once in a while. While attending a conference in your chosen field isn't exactly a vacation, the break from the normal routine can still recharge one's batteries.
Professional development might be off-farm seminars and workshops or it might be something right on the farm. Commercial businesses often offer programs for the benefit of their customers, some of which don't even try to sell you anything! Some training and development opportunities offered by Extension can be conducted for a farm or small group of farms cooperatively if requested.
Excellent opportunities exist for interaction with industry professionals and dairy operators at programs like the annual 4-State Dairy Management Conference in June (Dubuque, IA), the Midwest Dairy Expo in December (St. Cloud), or the Carver County Dairy Expo in February (Norwood-Young America). Minnesota Extension will be conducting its annual Minnesota Dairy Days at nine (9) locations around Minnesota in early January. This 'close to home' opportunity will bring you up to date on a variety of topics without a lot of travel time. Some may prefer on-farm opportunities for professional improvement.
Why not have subscriptions to some good industry magazines on the rack or table in the employee lunchroom? If your employees happen to be Spanish-speaking, some of these magazines offer selected articles in Spanish. Many sources offer videos for loan or purchase. Having a library of selected videos available can help sharpen the skills of employees without having to leave the farm.
Take the time to develop professional development plans for yourself and your staff. The potential for smoother and more efficient operations on your farm could pay off in healthier stock, more high quality milk, greater profits to the farm, and more satisfied employees who take pride in their work.
Attending a workshop allows you the opportunity to learn new ideas as well as 'pick the brains' of resource people.
Published in Dairy Star November 11, 2006