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Communicate With Your People, Not Just Your Cows

Libby Eiholzer, Bilingual Dairy
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

June 6, 2014

Over the past 50 years or so, many dairy farms have undergone significant growth. Farms that used to employ a workforce of only a handful of people with the same last name now look outside their families for additional workers. In the long run, this equates to fewer hours spent working directly with cows and equipment and more hours spent managing the people who work with the cows and equipment. Unfortunately, that?s not always as easy as it sounds; many farm managers have found that their cow skills don?t always translate to people skills. You may have noticed that the approach you use with your bovines doesn?t work as well with your humans.

What language do cows speak? English? Spanish? Chinese? When I?ve posed this question during animal handling trainings, the response I often get is ?all of the above!? It?s true, cows seem to respond to people in the same manner no matter what language they speak, and will listen without judgment to anything you have to say. Whether you realize it or not, you communicate with your cows using body language more than speech. And while your people surely do pay attention to body language, the words you use and especially the way you say them are more important than you may have realized.
What?s more, your employees want you to talk to them. When I translate for a meeting between English-speaking managers and Spanish-speaking employees, frequently the first question that the employees will have for their boss is ?How am I doing?? Though the boss may have just finished going through a list of things that have been done well and some that need improvement employees crave one-on-one contact and constructive feedback- positive or negative- from their boss. Some managers do a good job of addressing this question, if not on a day-to-day basis, then at least when they have a translator available.

As the growing season gets going, many managers spend more time by themselves in a tractor and less time on the ground working with employees. Don?t forget to make time to communicate with your team! While you certainly won?t have the time for one-on-one interaction like you do during less busy times of the year, setting aside time at the beginning of the month may make it a bit easier to follow through. Since you know it?s harder to fit in the time, be creative: send out a group text message, hold a quick meeting over coffee in the break room, or write a note to a group of employees who deserve congratulations on a job well done. Employees tend to become disgruntled when they don?t know what?s going on, so making the effort to keep them up-to-date on farm happenings and providing them with feedback on their performance can keep everyone happier in the long run.

Check out this video from Tom Wall of Dairy Interactive, offering some tips on how to create long-term dairy employees:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjtjuvkW6sM

Looking for Agricultura? It?s been transformed to a quarterly newsletter with added content. To receive it, contact Libby Gaige: geg24@cornell.edu or 607-793-4847.



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