Goal-driven management

What are the metrics by which you evaluate your farm performance each month? Does everyone on the farm know how the operation is doing? Maybe they should.

Cows on cattle farm.

“Goal-driven” was one of the six core values publicly displayed at Southland Dairy. Maybe you would say that about your operation, but does your management back it up?

When the Michigan State University Dairy Team visited this Central Texas farm we could see visible evidence that they were indeed goal-driven.

That evidence was a hanging clipboard with a report of performance against 50 different metrics in five areas: Herd Overall & Production, Transition Performance, Reproduction, Milk Quality and Feed. Every cell with data was coded either red, yellow or green. The colors, like those of a traffic light, indicate whether they are reaching their goals or not.

It was easy to focus in on the red boxes and see where they were not meeting goals. This kind of visibility can focus your attention on where you need more attention.

The metrics report came monthly. This was the most recent snapshot of how they were doing. On the same clipboard were the reports from previous months. One could easily flip back to see how what they were doing now compared to last month or six months ago.

Southland’s metrics did not stand alone, however. The same chart showed the metrics for four other farms within the group to which Southland belonged. They each knew who the others were, though the legend used only initials. Each farm had its own goals which meant that the color coding was individualized by farm. But the data were there by which any of the five farms could compare themselves to their peers.

Those peers met monthly by phone at least 10 months of the year and in person once per year. Now, not only were they holding themselves accountable, but they were holding each other accountable to the goals they had set. Powerful!

These farms also set and share financial goals that were not on the monthly report. The herd metrics are important, but the financial metrics are the real evaluation. Think of how that could type of feedback could move your business forward.

Maybe the thing that impressed me most was that this clipboard with the monthly herd metrics was not hanging in the owner’s office, nor that of any manager, it was hanging in the employee breakroom. That communicated to me that employees and management together are a team to reach goals. And if you want employees to help you reach goals then they need to know how performance is doing in comparison to the goals.

Being goal-driven and being transparent were logical partners to this owner. If he had areas in which they were not doing well, those areas were for all of them, owners, management and frontline workers to own. And, if they had areas in which they did meet their goals, everyone owns that success as well.

Fifty different metrics might be overwhelming for most farms. Michigan State University Extension Educators recommend that you start with a list of 3-7 measures that you plan to monitor monthly, and set a goal for each of them. Get employee feedback on the goal level that is attainable and involve employees in working together to reach the goals. There does not have to be a financial reward in it for them, but when you involve employees, you are more likely to get greater buy-in from them. Talk with employees regularly about the progress toward goals and celebrate attaining them.

Transparency builds teamwork. Maybe it is time to share your goals and the performance against those. Over time, you will see how that builds a greater commitment to reaching goals.

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