Feedback changes behavior

A small town provides feedback that changes behavior. That experience offers a lesson for farm owners.

Everyday I go to the office I pass through a small town with a police force of one. A while back they got one of those speed monitors that sits along the road and flashes the speed of approaching vehicles, including mine. Because the town lies in a low area, you approach it downhill. The speed limit through town is 30 miles per hour.

I won’t say what my speed measures, but I will tell you that in the four or five times that my speed is registered and flashed at me, it keeps going down as I am confronted with the truth of the flashing number.

I have never received a speeding ticket in this town, nor does the police chief stand next to the sign shaking his finger at me, but just the constant reminder of my speed, relative to the posted speed limit, is enough to change my behavior.

Without that feedback, my experience tells me that I would not reduce my speed as much as I do. Yet, how often do we let employees go without much or even any feedback on their performance in critical jobs on the farm?

The other night, I spoke to the milking crew at a farm. It was the third shift and one of the things they said was that they rarely had contact with the owners. I don’t have to guess much about the level of feedback they receive, but, as I discovered, they get a fair amount of blame.

Here’s the point­—we give up a lot of performance compliance when we don’t provide regular feedback. We also give up a lot of buy-in by employees to the farm goals.

Sometimes the feedback should be on the way employees are doing their job. On this farm, I found that the three milking shifts all used different routines. We would agree that there needs to be a single routine followed by all milking personnel. Feedback on the procedures used is important to get that compliance.

Beyond that, I believe there needs to be feedback on performance measures. For the milking personnel, one basic feedback is the somatic cell count (SCC) that is received by the farm. In this case, milking personnel did not know what the herd SCC was or that it had changed. That failure to communicate leaves those employees to carry on as before, oblivious to the role they play in the quality of milk shipped.

I believe that posting each day’s SCC in the parlor and the farm SCC goal performs the same role as the speed monitor does. Feedback changes behavior as long as they know what behavior to change.

It is not just SCC on which employees should have regular feedback. Maybe those who feed the cows should see daily milk production numbers, or feed to milk ratios. Maybe it is heat detections that are monitored and posted. Whatever type of operation it is, there are measures that are important to you.

What are the measures that you want your employees to achieve? How often do they get the numbers that tell them whether they have achieved the goal? How often do they get feedback on what they can do to help achieve the goal?

Keeping employees in the dark will only cause you to grow frustrated with them and their subpar performance. Let me encourage you to think about ways to provide feedback to your employees, and to start providing it today.

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