In addition to providing effective training, leading your team members so that they can do their jobs well requires setting clear expectations and providing feedback. According to Richard Stup, who leads Cornell University’s Agricultural Workforce Program, two essential questions a farm owner needs to answer for every employee are “What is expected of me?” and “How am I doing?”

During a Cornell Cooperative Extension webinar, Stup began by explaining that setting expectations means providing guidelines for behavior and performance. For an employee to behave the way you want them to, they have to know what you expect. What time do they need to arrive? How do they need to treat the animals? Who do they go to when they have a question? These and other behavioral answers should be clearly laid out.

Stup also described that there are two levels to performance expectations. The first is the basic performance expected of everyone. For example, this might be that every teat end is clean when the milking unit is attached. These will likely be related to your standard operating procedures.

Then there are the farm’s goals, which employees should also know even though they may not always be achieved. Goals may be metrics like desired somatic cell count or dry matter intake. “Often, goals are measureable,” Stup said.

Communicating what we expect means the team is much more likely to meet those expectations, he continued. If a farm owner is not clear about what they want to see, an employee doesn’t know what they are working toward.

How am I doing?

Having employee expectations outlined also sets a foundation for providing feedback so they can continue to improve. Stup called feedback “the most powerful tool a supervisor has in the toolbox.”

He explained that there are four kinds of feedback:

  1. Positive: When someone is doing something well, we want to encourage them to keep up the good work. This might feel awkward at first, but Stup encouraged farm owners to fight through that. Positive feedback costs nothing to give and is a big part of building a desirable work environment.
  2. Redirection: This type of coaching conversation is for when an employee gets off track or may be new and we need to get them back on track, said Stup. Things may be getting missed simply because the person didn’t know what was needed or they are transitioning to a new role. “We can always be coaching our people to be just a little bit better,” Stup encouraged.
  3. Negative: In contrast to redirection feedback, negative feedback is called for when a person knows what is needed but is just not doing the job correctly. Stup said this is a tool farms must have to discuss why employees are not following a procedure or training and the consequences if it continues.
  4. Ignoring: The most common feedback given on farms is no feedback. This leadership style ignores the good performers and the bad performers, which sends the message that it doesn’t matter or you don’t care how employees do their job, Stup said.

To give effective positive, redirection, or negative feedback, Stup provided the acronym SCORE:

  • S — Be specific. Provide details about what you saw. What did they do a good or bad job with?
  • C — Be credible. You don’t have to be an expert in every job, but you do need to know what a good job and bad job look like for their tasks. This also means you need to be out observing employees.
  • O — Give it on time and frequently. “Feedback is like bread; it gets stale,” Stup said. If you wait a while after you saw something to offer feedback, it won’t mean as much and the employee might not even remember what they did. Don’t wait for the annual performance review; that should be a summary of feedback you’ve given over the year.
  • R — Give relevant feedback. Offer praise or instruction only on things related to their job.
  • E — End the conversation by looking ahead. Make the last thing you say when redirecting someone to be forward-looking to encourage an employee and avoid stress.

Setting clear expectations with employees and following up when they meet or don’t meet them builds a team that is clear about their role within the farm. That is a critical piece in retaining a quality workforce on any dairy.

To comment, email your remarks to
(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
February 8, 2024
Subscribe to Hoard's Dairyman Intel by clicking the button below