Guidelines for Better Communication With Your Employees

One of the areas I regularly hear that needs improvement is communication with employees. Some managers and bosses do a better job of communicating with employees, and it shows with employee longevity, moral and farm profitability.  Outlined below are tools you can use when communicating with employees.

1) Farm vision and goals

You know what you want to accomplish on the farm and what your goals are for the farm, but do your employees?  Take a few minutes to write down the farm vision and goals and post them where employees can be reminded why they come to work every day.  People need to know what they are working to achieve.  Post the farm vision and goals in the break room, parlor, bathroom – yes, the bathroom.  Post them anywhere the employees can see the farm vision and goals each day.  If you don’t have a farm vision and goals, now is a great time to get started.  The vision and goals don’t have to contain a lot of detail, but where do you want the farm to be in one year, three years, five years, 10 years? What do you want to achieve each day?

2) Create a team

Begin building a team.  One way to create a team is to hold regular employee meetings and trainings, and ask your employees for their input and let them have some responsibility.  It makes them feel as though they are part of the dairy team and their input is important.  When employees feel like they aren’t part of the team, you may see low moral, no communication and work becomes “sloppy”.  This is when employees begin to do tasks, chores and animal cares how they want to and not how you expect them to be done or how they are outlined in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). 

3) Schedule regular meetings and trainings

It is easy to get caught up in our daily lives and the daily tasks on the farm. It happens too often that employee meetings and trainings are often forgotten about. Schedule regular meetings and training. Regularly scheduled meetings can have multiple purposes.  These can be short – 10-15 minutes weekly, biweekly or once a month.  The first purpose of the meeting is to meet with your employees. Employees want to know you are thinking about them and they are part of the team.  The second purpose is to talk about the happenings on the farm at these meetings.  Is there anything that will be changing?  Are you hiring new employees?  Are employees moving to a new role on the farm? Are you considering technology advances?  Have the farm goals changed?  These all need to be discussed with your employees.  The third purpose is to provide training.   You don’t have to call a meeting separate from a training.  A training can be as simple as a review of an SOP. It happens too often that we get in rhythm when working and forget about operating procedure or the way we are trained and do things because we want to get them done quickly.  Reviewing at least one SOP at each meeting will remind employees about the proper cares and procedures and will dovetail as a training, too. Don’t forget to have your employees sign-off on the training.  A training and SOP review are a great opportunity to ask for feedback from your employees also.  Should anything in the SOP be changed or added?  Is the SOP working as it was intended to work?  Is everything clearly defined in the SOP?  Opening this discussion to the employees lets the employee know their feedback is important, you trust them, and they are part of the team.  A fourth purpose of the meeting is to discuss any issues on the farm or with employees.  If you noticed conflicts among employees, inappropriate behaviors or actions or employees not following procedures and protocols, now is the time to discuss this as a group.  Keep in mind, there are times to discuss issues as a team, and there are times that issues need to be addressed individually.  Lastly, a meeting is also an opportunity to recognize employees for outstanding performance and thank your employees. 

4) What is the why?

We can all dictate what should be done and how to do it, but why?  Why does it need to be done this way?  What ramifications are there for the cows or facility if it isn’t done this way?  Giving employees a better understanding of why keeps them engaged and gives them a direction to work toward.  When employees have more knowledge and an understanding of why, they feel they are part of the team, and they have a goal to reach. Additionally, they respect you more for taking the time to explain the why to them.           

5) Don’t micro-manage

Most employees don’t leave a job because they don’t like the job. They leave the job because of the boss.  Employees easily lose respect and trust in managers that micro-manage, are constantly watching over their shoulder and criticizing work.  As a manager you are creating more stress for yourself when you micro-manage employees.  As long as the SOPs and procedures are on site for employees to review and you hold regular meetings and trainings, let the employees do their job.  You’ve probably heard the phrase, “there is more than one way to skin a cat.”  In most cases, there is more than one way to complete a task as long as SOPs and procedures are being followed.  The more responsibility you allow an employee to have, the more they feel they are part of the dairy team, and the better they will perform their job.

6) Performance review and annual review

Take the time, at least once a year, to have a one-on-one conversation with employees to let them know how they are doing with their work.  This conversation is a performance evaluation and you should discussion what the employee is doing well and areas that need growth and improvement. This is not the same as the annual review.  The annual review is when wage increases are discussed.  Keep the annual review and salary discussion separate from performance evaluation.  Hold the performance evaluation up to six months before the annual review to allow the employee time to improve.  Also during the performance evaluation, give the employee the time to open up and provide feedback and have a discussion with you.  This makes the employee feel as though they are part of the team, you are open to new ideas, and they are more willing to offer their ideas for changes and improvements.

7) Boost moral

There are certain times of year (planting, harvest, milk testing, etc.) when employees have additional work and responsibilities.  Employees are asked to work extra hours or work on their day off, and they do it.  And then the worst happens.  You lose your best employee or employees because they said they didn’t have enough time off or the job was too much for them. Several small gestures of kindness and gratitude can help prevent this and boost moral among employees.  At your regular meetings provide the breakfast or meal depending on when the meeting is held, write a thank you note and include a gift card saying thanks for all the hard work and extra hours, send them home with pay a couple hours early, offer to work part of their shift.  There are many ways you can say thanks and boost moral.  Don’t forget to offer paid time-off.  Paid time-off can range from 5 days a year up to three weeks or whatever is decided by the farm.  Offering this paid time-off gives employees time to plan personal and family time accordingly and gives them much needed, well-deserved time off.  The daily operations of the farm can be challenging when an employee is gone, but paid time-off pays for itself when employee longevity increases, you have the respect and trust of employees, the employees pay more attention to their job duties, and the farm is more profitable because of all this.  

8) Remember your approach and body language

When talking with an employee remember your body language. Provide eye contact and stand with your body facing the employee. Crossed arms show you aren’t open to discussion and can show anger.  Now, you may cross your arms if you are cold, but remember the employee is reading your body language and crossed arms state you aren’t open to the conversation. If an employee approaches you and you are busy on the computer, on the phone or you’re looking off in the distance, you aren’t giving the employee the attention they deserve.  You are showing the employee they aren’t important enough for your attention.  Turn toward the employee, stand up, walk to a different part of the room, finish your phone call, and always make eye contact.  Your body language shows the attention you are giving the employee and how ready to you are for an open conversation.

9) What is the culture of your employees?

As you think about the culture of your employees, how does their culture impact their family life, when do they need time off work, what holidays that are important to them, do they have cultural traditions?  These questions may be helpful to ask your employee as you get to know and understand them better.  Getting to know your employee builds a personal relationship, and provides you better insight on their work ethic and may provide insight on incentives you can offer them for work performance. Taking time to learn about the culture of your employees builds and relationship and provides you with a better understanding of your employees. 

Keeping these communication tools in your back pocket as you manage employees on your farm, will lead to longer lasting and happier employees, healthier animals and increased profits. 

Below is a list of additional resources for managing, communicating and hiring employees.