Having trouble with employees following protocols consistently? Maybe you have a common problem called “helpful employees”.
One of the most common issues that I see in dairy parlors in Michigan is what I call helpful employees. “But that is exactly what we want,” you might say, and while we do want helpful employees, we want them to be helpful in performing their task within our predetermined protocols.
This problem really jumped out at me when the Michigan State University Extension Dairy Team was conducting a field study in Michigan this past summer. The project looked at milking efficiency in parlors, focusing on ensuring the best possible milking experience for cows. As I was observing employees at work performing the farms protocols, I noted that often, helpful employees would enter the parlor and negatively impact the routine.
In some cases, the helpful employee was an individual that was fetching cows, but in other cases it was just someone who was looking for a task to do. In either case, the employee would enter the parlor and jump into the routine, without first determining where they could be most helpful and still maintain the proper protocol.
When milking cows the protocol is important for several reasons. First, there needs to be sufficient time for the teat dip (sanitizer) to effectively kill bacteria on the outside of the cow’s teat. Second, there needs to be adequate stimulation of the cow’s teat in order to engage her natural milk letdown response. Third, there needs to be adequate lag time (time between start of stimulation and milker unit attachment) to allow the cow’s milk letdown response to occur.
What we are trying to accomplish with each of these is to be efficient with time, but make sure that time goals for cows are still met:
- 10-15 seconds per cow of stimulation (in the first pass)
- 30 seconds of dip contact time
- Apply unit 60-120 seconds after stimulation
However, if we just give these goals without the reasons, employees are less likely to follow them because they do not understand the importance of these goals.
Of course, this is not just a Michigan problem, I also observed helpful employees on a recent visit to some Texas dairies with our MSU Extension Dairy Team, and I have seen this problem on dairy farms in other states as well. So, what can we do about this issue and are there broader applications for other types of farms and businesses? I think the answer is yes to both of these questions and there are couple of ideas to consider:
- A protocol solution for dairy farms: I am now advising dairy farms to consider adding to their milking protocol, “Someone has to step out, before you can step in”. Having only one person working with a group of 5-8 cows at any one time, keeps the protocol intact. If someone comes into that 5-8 cow space to help, the first person needs to step out and do something else. Two or more people are not allowed to perform the milking protocol in that space, at the same time.
- A training solution that has broader application: Employees need to know the reasons for our farm or business protocols. Practically, this means that they need to understand the goals for their area of the business and how their actions (the protocol) affects these goals. Employees with this level of understanding are more likely to feel competent in their job, have a higher level of engagement and perform to the standards that you expect. They will be the helpful employees that you really want on your farm.
If employees know the goals and how their actions affects those goals, and still choose not to follow the protocols, we have moved into the area of employee performance feedback and discipline, and another Ag Forum article.
Encourage helpful employees and do not break that great attitude by merely telling them, “follow the protocols,” or, “just do what I say,” rather, help them understand how to be the most helpful, while also meeting the goals of your farm.