IN FEBRUARY I attended the Australian Dairy Conference thanks to the Gardiner Dairy Foundation and WestVic Dairy.
Among the many standout speakers, my highlight was Dan Brown's presentation on staff culture in the dairy farm workplace.
Dan had been working for Australian Fresh Milk Holdings at Moxey Farm in NSW for many years. He was then transferred to Coomboona Farm in Victoria and tasked with “turning staff culture around”.
My current role is herd manager on a 650-cow dairy farm in the Colac region.
Dan's experiences at Coomboona Farm were really interesting because I have been trying to improve staff culture in my own workplace. His talk gave me many ideas on how to make dairy farms attractive places to work.
Skilled and reliable farm labour is a huge issue at the moment. Retaining and motivating good staff is particularly challenging for large-scale operations like Coomboona and Moxey.
As a starting point, Dan recommends we reflect on our own behaviour as senior members of staff and consider whether we are setting a good example.
We need to look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves “Would I work for a person like me?”
Effective communication is critical in every workplace.
Dan discussed how they use What's App messaging on their farm. It's a quick way to update the entire team and assign tasks. Pictures can also be uploaded to help make things clearer. Some challenges to this approach include staff not being equipped with smartphones and poor internet coverage across the farm.
Regular staff meetings are another management tool Dan uses at Coomboona Farm. Having regular, short meetings with all staff members helps the team to plan out tasks for the week, alert staff to upcoming decisions and outline future plans for the farm.
Meetings can also be a good social gathering to allow staff to get to know each other while still maintaining a professional environment. They also provide staff with an opportunity to give feedback to the manager.
Dan also discussed how important it is to have regular one-on-one check-ins with staff to see how they are going.
Being friendly, open and approachable is a major asset for dairy managers and will help them run a successful business and retain good staff.
Being willing to spend plenty of time teaching and training staff was another valuable suggestion.
Instead of just giving staff black and white instructions, Dan said it was important to teach staff how something works and why they must complete a task in a certain way.
Negative staff culture, poor working conditions and no work-life balance can lead to breakdowns in the workplace and the loss of good staff. That is why creating a positive workplace culture and looking after staff is essential to business success.
There were lots of practical ideas in Dan's presentation and since returning from the ADC I have been trying to implement many of them.
WestVic Dairy acknowledges the financial support of the Gardiner Dairy Foundation in providing educational and development opportunities to young dairy farmers in our region.
- By Marc Johnston, ADC delegate