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Strong Farm Culture Boosts Performance & Employee Well-Being

As an owner or manager of your farm, you likely use key performance indicators (KPIs) and dairy production metrics to evaluate both the wellness of your herd and the financial health of your business. Metrics like income over feed cost (IOFC), energy-corrected milk (ECM), cost of production (COP) and working capital per cow are likely top of mind. Using numbers to evaluate the health of your business is effective because quantitative metrics provide clarity, are objective and offer actionable items. However, another key driver of success is not a number and can easily be overlooked: the culture you, as owners, managers and employees cultivate and allow in your operation.

I have often heard from clients on dairy farms that what matters most are the people and the cows. We all know how well our cows are taken care of. Now, ask yourself, what are you doing to take care of your employees too?

Let’s start by defining what organization culture is and why it should matter to your operation. Organizational culture is “the collection of values, beliefs, attitudes, systems and rules that influence employee behavior within an organization.” A clearly defined and articulated culture, where everyone holds themselves and each other accountable, will help drive the KPIs and production metrics previously identified.

A strong and healthy culture ensures that your employees feel valued and motivated, and it also helps them feel connected to the greater good. All employees are critical to overall farm performance. Whether they are milkers, shop mechanics or calf feeders, all employees will work toward the same vision and expectations and understand how their role fits into the overall business. They will feel a stronger connection not only to the farm but also each other, setting a baseline of values and behaviors that everyone has agreed to.

Culture plays out in several key areas:

  • Employee Morale and Retention: Employees who feel respected and empowered are more engaged and typically happier, reducing the likelihood they will seek employment elsewhere. Since feed and labor are the top two expenses on a farm, minimizing employee turnover and fostering engagement can reduce costs and disruptions.
  • Profitability: A strong culture builds teamwork, open communication and collaboration. When employees feel they are part of a connected team, they are usually more productive and efficient. This sense of ownership leads to higher quality work, attention to detail and motivation. Employees may solve problems independently and bring new ideas and perspectives.
  • Safety: A strong culture prioritizes both employee and animal safety. Emphasizing animal welfare and attention to detail ensures that animals receive the highest quality of care while minimizing accidents among employees.
  • Community Relations: Consider how your employees would describe your culture to others in your community. Equally as important is the community’s perception of how you treat employees. Are you seen as an employer of choice?

To evaluate the health of your culture, consider these quick steps:

  • Talk to Your Employees: Sit down with your employees one-on-one to get their honest feedback on what is going well and what is not. This should be a different conversation than a performance review. You can’t change what you don’t know or acknowledge.
  • Observation: How do employees engage with each other and their managers? Are they following protocols?
  • Evaluation: Are your safety and training protocols in place, and are all employees, including dairy farm management, expected to follow them? Morale can quickly drop if not everyone is held to the same standards and expectations. Also, evaluate your managers. Do you have the right people in the right jobs? Make sure managers understand that you expect them to lead, not just manage. There is a difference.

The culture of your operation can drive success, and if not done correctly, it can impact both the financial health of your business and the mental and physical health of you and your employees. Signs of a strong culture include trust, inclusivity, open communication, mutual respect, accountability and adaptability. Setting the stage for a strong culture starts with you. Every employee has the chance to impact the culture each and every day. Take the time to clearly articulate your vision and expectations, and live the culture through your words and actions. Don’t just manage your way through culture; lead through it.

And if you need resources for managing your dairy farm culture, reach out to our experts on the dairy team.



Director of Dairy
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