The gift of appreciation

Tis always the season for giving appreciation, especially to employees. That is no different on the dairy or any ag operation that employs labor to conduct business. As the dairy industry continues to change, so will its reliance on hired labor. In successfully adapting to those changes, the use of the modern tools of human resource management has great potential for improving the productivity and efficiency of the dairy industry. This message is for everyone: small or large operations, employees or not, spouse or no spouse, kids, too. If you don’t show appreciation, you will appear arrogant, ungrateful or insensitive, which will result in labor (or family) problems.

Appreciation is an essential part of working with people and having them work for you. If you are not good at showing appreciation, then work on it. Nothing substitutes for appreciation.

Showing appreciation was the subject of an article written 10 years ago by Phil Durst, Michigan State University’s Extension dairy specialist. When preparing for this message, I came across it again and will adapt my comments from this well-written piece. I’ll share his five characteristics of showing appreciation. How many are true in your dealings with employees and family members?

  • Show appreciation to family as well as nonfamily employees. Although this shouldn’t need to be stated, all too often we overlook those closest to us. We expect their efforts and, therefore, often neglect to thank them and make them feel valuable. None of us likes to be taken for granted. Even though family members have a vested interest in the success of the farm, they need to feel that they are important to you in the business as well as personally.

Employees also should have opportunities to show appreciation to one another. Maybe this happens by having a dry-erase board mounted in the milk house that is reserved for notes of appreciation.

  • Be specific in your thanks or praise: “I really like the way you clean the parlor after milking” or “You are doing a great job at prepping teats.” This reinforces the specific action and allows you to build upon it in the future.
  • Appreciation should be frequent. Timing is always a balance. Appreciation shouldn’t be so frequent that it loses its meaning, but neither should it be so infrequent that it stuns the recipient. It also should not be predictable. Don’t put it on your calendar like progesterone injections. That has a ring of insincerity. Take note of the positive things about people, and when you note it, say something then and there.
  • Appreciation should be public. First, the opposite: Criticism always should be private. Never rebuke an employee in front of others. But be quick to praise an employee or family member in front of others.
  • Appreciation should be creative, tailored and varied. Don’t get in a rut, and don’t hesitate to seek new ways to show appreciation.

Here are several ideas to help you tailor your demonstrations of appreciation:

  • Build pride in the dairy industry. As a dairy farmer, you work in a great industry, producing a great product. You should take pride in dairy products and so should your employees. That pride will affect the way they do their jobs. For example, you might bring ice cream to the farm with spoons for all. This is not the kind of food that will keep, so everybody breaks and eats until the ice cream is gone. And at the same time, say, “I want you guys to know that I appreciate your hard work these last couple of days, and I also want you to know that what we do here goes into products like this good ice cream.”
  • Build pride in your operation. Tractor companies figured out long ago that if they gave someone a hat with their name on it, people develop some loyalty to their tractors. Some farms have had jackets made, but dairy producers rarely present products to their employees with the farm name emblazoned on it. T-shirts don’t cost much. Each year, you could have a new batch made up with a new saying or theme. In fact, you could have a contest each year among family and employees to develop the new slogan.
  • Involve and recognize employees’ families. When you need employees to put in extra hours, their families suffer from their absence. Recognize that sacrifice by doing something for the employees and their families, such as giving them passes to an amusement park, ballgame or race. Be sure to include families in celebrations, and schedule activities for the children of employees when you have social events for the farm crew.
  • Meet special needs. All families or individuals go through times of need, and these are opportunities to say that you care about them. Prior to the start of the school year, you might give a gift card for a store so they can get school clothes for the kids, or maybe give a gift card for the local auto repair garage because of a need the employee has.
  • Give for a particular interest. Individuals have different interests that make them unique. Tailor your appreciation efforts to those interests. Maybe you could sponsor a softball or bowling team. Sponsor the employees’ kids in a walk-a-thon or other fundraiser. Maybe you can give shop space for them to work on a vehicle or rent a camper for them.

So as Phil so aptly put it, don’t be a curmudgeon! Or to put it another way, don’t be like Ebenezer Scrooge, the cold-hearted, tight-fisted, greedy character in the Charles Dickens’ novel “A Christmas Carol.”

The economy for dairy farmers has been difficult, to say the least. Now uncertain politics has done little to assure dairy producers of a promising market. All this weighs heavily on the dairy farm family of 2012. But that is not who we are. Don’t let this Christmas get away without expressing your heartfelt gratitude to the people who are there for us and help make our reputation as providers of high-quality and safe food every day of the year the envy of the world.

To help you show your appreciation, a collaboration of Extension dairy specialists from the I-29 corridor has launched a series of workshops devoted to employee management not only in the dairy industry but all of agriculture. If you are interested, contact J.W. Schroeder at (701) 231-7663 or jw.schroeder[at] for a brochure. The dates for the workshops are:

Pipestone, Minn. - Jan. 8, 15, 22 and 29, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Sioux Falls, S.D. - Jan. 10, 17, 24 and 31, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Jamestown, N.D. - March 20-21 (sessions 1 and 2) and April 3-4 (sessions 3 and 4), 1 to 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. to noon both sessions

Source: Dairy Focus:  J.W.Schroeder, NDSU Extension dairy specialist, NDSU