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What Separates an All-Star Dairy Team from an Also-Ran Dairy Team?

We love identifying winners. Dairy winning includes identifiable achievements such as winning showmanship at a regional 4H show, Grand at WDE, Junior All-American in milking form, top gTPI Heifer for the month or having a young bull that enters AI with over-the- top health and fertility indexes.  These are all about standing in the winning limelight of our dairy world. However, winning in the show ring or on financial, health or genetic records, always comes back to the human team as the foundation.  A-Team scrutiny raises key questions. How was is it selected? Where was the talent found?  How were the all-star bits and pieces managed into becoming an all-star dairy team?

Drafting and Managing an All-Star Dairy Team

I love this time of year in North America.  Sports lovers are inundated with the two extremes of playoffs and new seasons occurring simultaneously.  Baseball. Football. Soccer. Basketball. On the field and in the headlines, every sport has one goal.  Winning. Whether the season is ending or just beginning, winning depends on picking the best and then managing a Team of All-Stars.

Just like sports managers do, successful dairy managers must form teams that can win. The team must work to carry out their most important initiatives.  It isn’t unheard of to build dairy teams from whoever is available.  However, the most successful dairies consistently select their very best talent, to tackle the dairy’s highest priority issues: monitoring health, ration balancing, feed mixing and heat detection.  The list can seem endless but basing team choices only on availability can result in enormous missed opportunities. Using well-selected teams can make a measurable difference in achieving goals.  It can be even more significant if this is an under-achieving area of the operation.

Know Your Best Talent.  Put them in the Most Effective Position.

Perhaps everyone on your dairy team knows all the basic skills of the operation. But that is very seldom the case, unless the size of your team is less than three individuals. What separates an all-star from the also-rans, is knowing who has a special talent for specific assignments.  Who has the patience to manage difficult calvings without resorting to pulling too soon?  Who has the eye to recognize changes in eating behavior, resting or mobility patterns and cares enough to learn how to respond effectively? Who walks the animals and pays attention to the manure? Who has the interest in tracking data that may impact the discovery of weaknesses in your breeding program? Who can use a cell phone to capture and transmit herd events? You may know that some of your team have better skills but you may not fully recognize just how much better they are because day-to-day logistics are done pretty much the same way all the time.  

When it comes to daily routine the aim is for everyone to perform at a high level.  This is achieved if each team member is committed to performing the tasks with consistency and care.  That works for the repeatable, routine tasks. However, for creative or highly unstructured work, like bunk management or delivering first calf heifers or using observation to discover issues, the best team members can be many times more effective than the average. It isn’t about carrying out the routine.  It is about responding to the exceptional issues, including animals under stress.  The best do more and do it better.

How Many “Bests” are on Your High Priority Teams?

Dairy team managers make a great start when they accurately identify the strengths of each dairy team member.  Teaming great talent together multiplies the force and exponentially multiplies productivity and effectiveness.  After all, two heads are almost always better than one.  But with star talent, this relationship becomes more extreme.  Imagine putting your best heifer handler together with your best nutrition manager and then bring them under the direction of your best logistics person.  A three-member team, comprised entirely of A-players, can produce much more output than an average team. They set new protocols.  Achieve new benchmarks.  And look for “better” all the time!

How Many Jobs?  How Many Teams?

A milking-pit crew can be compared to NASCAR pit crews.  There are many jobs and many ways to get the best flow-through, while not sacrificing the priority goals – speed (in racing) or production (in milking). 

One of my vicarious enjoyments is watching pit crews in NASCAR races. Their performance can be objectively measured. Research tells me that a standard pit in a NASCAR race involves more than 70 separate tasks, such as refueling and changing all four tires. The best complete a standard pit in just 12.12 seconds. It’s remarkable to watch!   Now ask yourself what would happen if one of those all-star, year round trained members was to be replaced with an average tire changer.  You would still have strength on the team but with each average replacement, the productivity of the entire team declines.

Saving half an hour in milking time will reduce the cost for milkers or allow workers to use the saved half hour to conduct herd walks to find animals off-feed or not going to the manager to eat.  A players provide invaluable flexibility to adapt to change and resolve potential issues.

You have a great team.  Do you have a great manager?

Working under great leaders or managers further magnifies the production of extraordinary teams. Not all dairy team leaders are alike – in the same way that not all coaches are alike.  Great coaches get better performance out of their teams than mediocre ones do.  They are effective because they are better at encouraging each member of the team to play up to his or her full potential.

Economic studies have found that leaders that rank in the top 10% of their industry can affect the productivity of an average team. If they only do that by about 10%, on a nine-member team that would be equal to adding another team member.  It seems to be born out that they can raise the output of an all-star team as well, even though that all-star team was already significantly higher to begin with.

Great sports managers and great team leaders are able to improve the performance of whatever team they are working with —regardless of whether it’s average or all-star.

On a dairy farm, having nine highly effective workers, instead of ten to eleven average workers, provides a top manager with the ability to remunerate the nine at a higher rate and still have savings. Proper remuneration is not only a motivator but it also is part of the A-team philosophy of recognizing the value of always targeting improvement and achieving dairy goals.

Five Actions to Bring out The All-Star Qualities of Your Dairy Team

  1. Identify star talent

Identifying and managing extraordinary teams offers the potential for exceptional dairy productivity and performance.  Unfortunately, too many dairies fail to realize this hidden potential. You may have done a good job of setting up protocols and following them.  Is there a method of feedback for finding people who care about making a good method better and better achievement the best?

  1. Assemble all-star teams

Putting together scarce star talent can’t be done if it is reduced to an afterthought that happens by lucky accident. Real winners know that finding the A dairy team goes beyond identifying exceptional abilities. It means putting them together to raise the bar on the results being targeted. If the measure of success is accepted as daily average achievement, you will only find average performers.  Seek out those who have a willingness to go beyond what is expected.

  1. Target three priorities as all-star initiatives

If you are more interested in statistics — bank numbers, production numbers or herd size numbers, your dairy will likely become a statistic and not necessarily an exceptional one. There is a very real danger at both ends of the number game.  You either target too many priorities or you are using too narrow a focus.  Instead, start with three areas where you will assemble your all-star talent.  Three examples might be feeding, breeding and milking.  Don’t expect everyone on the team to star at all three.  Find the best.  Give them the training, tools, and empowerment. Let them show what they can do. Quite often the recognition of individual talents inspires whole teams to raise their level of effectiveness. Another area that might gain from A-team input is the need to analyze and improve calf management.

  1. You can’t rest on last year’s record.

Don’t underestimate the competition. Don’t underestimate the impact of changing conditions. Nothing surprises leaders and managers more than being surprised by failure. Exceptional achievement doesn’t mean doing everything the same as you did it, when you won last time.  It means being effective today.  Winning isn’t a static formula.  It’s an attitude. It’s not the system that is to be relied upon.  It’s the winning attitude. Every day.  Every way.

  1. Manage team member egos

Perhaps the biggest limiting factor from that works against having an all-star dairy team is the fear that, by seeking out and using all-stars, it will mean that personal egos will get in the way of team effectiveness.  The 24/7 nature of dairy managing would seem to be best served when the drama of competition and recognition are reduced to the lowest common denominator.  But, unless all members are inspired by personal contribution to the team goals, the effectiveness of the team will also slide toward that “lowest common denominator”.   

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Too often dairy managers follow outmoded practices for assembling their feeding, breeding and milking teams. They are then easily outperformed by All-Star managers, who aren’t afraid to identify, assemble and manage all star dairy teams.  Go ahead. Put together an A-team and then make sure that they are given A-team remuneration! What will happen? Without a doubt, your dairy team will have a winning season!!  


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