Just because you said it, doesn't mean they got it!

Even when you think you do a good job of communicating with employees, you don’t really know what they heard unless you ask.

On a recent farm visit I witnessed a great example of a communications board for employees. The farm owner had done a nice job of displaying an organizational chart, showing where the employees fit into the business and the quality and production goals for the farm. The owner also had put together nice graphs on the milk quality levels over time and when the quality incentives would be triggered.

We were pretty excited to see this display. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. Imagine our surprise when we asked the milkers about the quality and production goals for the farm, and they couldn’t give us the goals. The employees knew that quality and quantity of milk were important, but nothing specific, despite the owner listing clear, concise goals on the communications board.

What went wrong? Or even better, what do we do now? Obviously we can’t just count on posting information on a display board to adequately communicate between management and employees. The board actually has to be used by all of the team members. In this case, it may have been a long time since the owner or manager talked with employees about the farm’s goals and showed them how they were listed on the board. It may also be that new employees were hired since the display board was implemented. Maybe the owner or manager also needs to revisit some language or literacy issues.

In this case, the owner immediately addressed the problem. On the very next day, he visited with employees about the milk quality and production goals for the farm and walked through the display board with his employees. He also needed to ask employees to tell him what they understood from the display board and how their job performance effects milk quality and quantity.

As one of my colleagues, Phil Durst, Michigan State University Extension Dairy educator, says “Tell them, show them, have them tell you, then have them show you”. We can’t expect verbal communication or a display board to get the job done on its own. We need to walk employees through what we expect of them (show them). Then, to ensure communication was effective, ask them to repeat it back to you, and have them show you how they understand the job to be done.

Do farm employees know what’s expected of them? To really know, they must be asked. Try it today! You might find some areas of improvement that will directly impact performance and quality on your farm.

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