TRAVERSE CITY — Recently a missionary friend of mine spoke at our church and talked about moving from information to innovation.
Information would be the raw data, and innovation is the incorporation of that new information into a change in our behavior. He indicated that only a small percentage of people can make the jump from information to innovation, without a critical intermediate step. That step is imitation.
People learn best when they can observe how someone else has taken a certain piece of information and applied it. We all know the phrase “Just do what I say,” and that it generally does not lead to good outcomes, but yet we often manage that way. As a Michigan State University Extension educator, I’ve personally heard managers say “I’ve told them a thousand times” or “how often should I have to repeat myself,” or “they follow my instructions for a while and then go right back to doing it their own way.”
Maybe part of the problem is that we have never modeled the change for them, or we are not modeling it often enough. One leading milk quality expert told me that the difference between farms that produce high-quality milk and those that produce lower-quality milk is in the time that they regularly spend with employees in the parlor. Time spent with employees should be praising good behavior or modeling the correct way to do a task when necessary. These leading milk quality herds are not spending time with employees in order to catch them doing something wrong. Instead, they are looking for opportunities to help them improve and recognizing them for the good work they are already doing.
I recently spoke with one dairy producer who was doing an excellent job of this. He indicated he could fully trust his employees with a critical task on his farm because he had modeled it for them. He also followed up with them to make sure that they understood how to perform the task correctly. He didn’t hesitate to spend the extra time with his employees to ensure that they understood the process, and he is now rewarded without having to worry that the job is getting done correctly.
If we only give information to employees and expect them to be able to make the jump to innovation, we will likely be disappointed. Employers that stop at information are more likely to have a negative view of employees and are less likely to trust them to do the job right.
Employers that provide a model for employees to imitate, reinforce that model on a regular basis, and then praise employees for their innovation will improve their chance of success in implementing new processes and technology on their farms.