A special series sponsored by BEEF magazine and Pharmacia & Upjohn Animal Health to provide feedlot and stocker operators with an in-depth educational tool focusing on employee management.
The cattle business - far more than most enterprises in America - depends on synergy for success. The term, which defines the concept of enhanced cooperation, is a manager's most vital chore. Create synergy and you've got high morale and winning teamwork. Damage it and trouble is on the way.
As every people manager knows, creating camaraderie and solid teamwork is not easy. You must balance personality types, juggle egos and handle conflicts judiciously. But do it well and the rewards are great, personally and professionally.
Here is how three top feedyard managers deal with teambuilding and conflict resolution.
Team Building For Gary Darnall, owner/manager of Darnall Ranch and Feedlot of Harrisburg, NE, teamwork is more than a goal. "It's absolutely essential in our business," he says. "Each employee needs to understand how important all the other jobs are. And I think the best way to foster that is through constant communication."
Darnall uses group meetings to reinforce his message. For example, he'll gather his animal health team and discuss how their performance affects the feeding crew. And no one is left out. He holds group meetings for mill workers, managers, secretaries, pen riders, feeders and hospital crews.
"We keep them short and they're not on set days," he says. "I particularly like to take advantage of change - say a new technology, a change in procedures or an unanticipated problem."
In Dodge City, KS, Connie Kuhlman, manager of Boot Hill Feeders, discovered the value of teamwork when her father retired.
"He was a dictator," she says. "He managed everything and everyone and he was very successful at it. For two years I tried that approach, but the time and energy it took was tough."
So in 1994 Kuhlman decided to develop teams and quickly learned it takes time.
"The first lesson I learned is that there are leaders and followers," Kuhlman says. "At first I struggled trying to get someone to be something they weren't. But over time you sort people out, watch different scenarios unfold, and eventually groups come together where each individual recognizes the others' worth. They know they have support from their partners and the team concept builds."
At the Penny Ranch near Burlington, CO, Gary Penny says high morale is what enhances teamwork the most. And high morale, he says, stems from attention to detail.
It's The Little Things "Little things mean a lot to employees," he says. "For example, we take extra effort to keep the equipment clean and comfortable. And I do things like make sure every gate is hung right - it matters to the employees because it makes their day go so much easier."
The Pennys also provide lavish harvest-day meals for all employees and schedule pool parties during summer. Recently, they hosted a steak fry and dance. "High morale is the most important thing in an employee/employer relationship," Penny says. "Do all the little things, work alongside them, and everyone realizes they are an important part of the team."
For Kuhlman, personality "sorting" is an integral part of team building.
"Just like you have leaders and followers, you have aggressive and passive personalities," she says. "When they are combined on a team, the aggressive personality wants everyone else to get fired up just like they are. But it's a good thing they don't. Teams need passive to balance aggressive because it balances strengths and weaknesses. The challenge is to get them to recognize that they complement each other."
If tempers flare during meetings, Kuhlman lets them air it out. "It's not always comfortable," she says, "but it really helps."
Penny and Darnall both take extra effort to match personalities with jobs. But they stress that it takes time to create the right fit.
"Matching people with different personalities and skills is a constant job," Darnall says. "If we put someone in a particular job and their interest is not there, we move them to another area if we have to. But first we ask the new team members what they think. We let them help make the decision.
"If the problem is a personality clash, separation is the short-term solution. But you have to recognize that some clashes are impossible to solve. And as managers, we have to tell them that it's also their responsibility to help us. So we sit down with them and help them work it out," Darnall says.
When Gary Penny is faced with a personality clash, he also gets the parties together.
"Usually we can talk it out together," he says. "We realize some personalities work well together and others don't. The key is patience. Pay attention, observe habits, communicate constantly and always follow through."
Off-The-Job Stress Of all the issues discussed, the three managers agree that an employee's personal problems are the toughest to deal with.
"That is dangerous territory," Darnall says. "First, you must decide whether you can help. If it's a marital problem, for example, the last thing they need is a third party. I'll talk to the person confidentially and help them if I can but there's no formula. It's easily the toughest part of personnel management."
Connie Kuhlman recently dealt with an employee's domestic problems. She says support is the best medicine. First, she and the employee and his supervisor discussed the problem. Kuhlman offered support during tough times, then encouraged the employee to rise above the difficulties.
Next, she met with the team. "I told them I wanted to hang in there for a while and asked them to join with me," Kuhlman says. "It's not what they wanted to do but they accepted it. In an ideal world personal problems don't come to work and work doesn't go home. But it's not (an ideal world). So I'm there to help."
Gary Penny also serves various roles, including counselor, legal aide and financial advisor. "We've helped people with legal, emotional and financial problems," he says. "When you have a good employee with troubles, help them work it out. Don't take a hard line."
Dealing With Gossips Gary Darnall laughs when asked how he deals with gossips, but his answer is serious.
"That's a big problem," he says, "and the more employees you have, the more rumors. We try to handle that at hiring. We tell them that if they hear something being passed around the yard and they have a question - come ask us about it and we'll tell them the truth.
"But if I have to, I'll bring in the whole group and straighten it out. Once they hear the truth, all of a sudden within that group someone is very quietly exposed."
Kuhlman is just as frustrated with gossips and rumormongers.
"It's the worst thing, and it will bring a business down quicker than anything," she says. "It's like a rule around here. If what you say or don't say is not going to benefit the feedyard, why are you doing it? I'll say it right out. People have to be reminded of that."
* Create teams that bond together
* Put a stop to gossip
* Deal with an employee's personal problems
* Work better with family members
* Resolve conflicts in the workplace
* Determine your personality type
* Get the right person into the right slot
* Determine if you are utilizing the most important asset in your business