Growing from 1,800 cows to 4,200 cows requires more than scaling the dairy operation. It requires scaling your mindset as a leader and stepping out of the day-to-day and into the role of CEO of the dairy.
That’s what we hear from Steve Abel, of Abel Dairy Farms in Wisconsin, and one of his closest advisors who has walked alongside him through the expansion of his dairy and the transformation of the leadership, GPS Dairy consultant, Robb Bender.
“It’s been kind of a progression of change for dairy owners. They’ve gone from being the ones doing the work themselves to managing the people doing the work and then there’s one more shift to developing the leaders at the dairy,” says Bender.
So how has this transition gone at Abel Dairy? They built, expanded, and are on their way to being an elite level with 4,200 cows and did not lose any of their team members along the way.
“Nobody left in this process, so we were about 6 months into this and we didn’t have a single employee quit,” states Abel.
Both Bender and Abel agree, this in itself has been one of the biggest wins for the dairy. It required intentional effort on Steve’s part to not only lead the project, but to lead his people.
What was his most powerful action to accomplish this? “Listening. Listen to your people,” Abel adds. That meant spending time in the barn, with his crew. Understanding the challenges they were facing, inviting them to share their ideas for solutions. Sometimes, it meant letting them try out an idea that didn’t work.
“Let them make mistakes. You let them learn and that’s how you develop them, and then they feel more willing to bring forward ideas when they have them in the future. That’s helped empower people, and the dairy’s in a really good place as a result,” says Bender.