Blog Post - May 30, 2024

Invest in the Person: Seeing Potential, Developing People 

At Dairyland we believe people have inherent value and investing in people is one way we affirm that belief. We practice investment by taking good care of ourselves and finding opportunities to contribute to the success and flourishing of others, whether customers, team members, members of our local community, and beyond.  

Robert Whitehouse, Dairyland’s Director of Manufacturing and Supply Chain is passionate about helping others succeed and has a knack for identifying their potential. Here he shares how his experience has led him to value investing in others and how he personally approaches this with his team at Dairyland.  

Why is investing in others so important to you? How does it make a difference?  

The most important part of my job, and the part that gives me the most pleasure, is to see people grow. That’s important to me because I come from a very humble background and worked my way up; I want to see people achieve the same sort of success. So many people don’t because they don’t have someone along the way who says “you can do better” or somebody who sees something in them.

Was there a defining moment where investing in people became important for you? 

There are probably two defining moments for me. When I started work at around 15 years old, the General Manager of the company said to me after my first week, “You’re only here for the summer. You better not be here after the summer; you have way too much potential.” That made me think, “Well, he sees something that I didn’t really see.” I ended up staying there for four years but went from carrying bits of metal around to managing a team of people. If he hadn’t done that, I think I’d still be doing the same job, but he saw something and made me think about it.

The other defining moment for me was when I worked for a startup company in the UK. There was a young lady that nobody saw potential in. She was very unhappy. For some reason I thought back to that time when I was a kid and realized there’s something special in this young woman. I went to the main boss and said, “Don’t let her go, let me work with her and in a year I’ll make sure she’s the best employee you’ve got.” And that’s what happened…she just needed someone to believe in her and tell her “You can do this.”

How do you invest in yourself? And how are you investing in other folks in your current role? 

I do a couple of things to invest in myself professionally. I have a good network of people that I talk to often. I talk to different people to get an understanding of what’s going on in their world and share what’s happening in my area. Then I’d say that working with Bob—a professional leadership coach provided by Dairyland—is very good for me.

As for investing in others, you learn so much when you just sit and listen to somebody. You sit and listen, they chat, and you start getting little bits about their personality and what really will drive them. Then I like to challenge people and to make them a little bit uncomfortable. It’s that positive anxiety – you take them out of their comfort zone, and they feel like they can’t do it, but the positive anxiety generates adrenaline. That gets them through it, and they realize they’ve just done it. It’s…celebrating that success. If it wasn’t quite right, don’t criticize. I think that’s the key…if you encourage and listen and help them, then they grow.

One of our core values at Dairyland is investing in the person; how do you see that show up here?  

There are really good things that happen at Dairyland that I don’t think happen anywhere else in a formal format. Take IDPs (individual development plans) for example. Everyone here has an IDP. There’s no distinguishing between job role or person, everybody gets the same opportunity. Also, they all get the chance to speak into their IDP, and they all get a chance to develop. I don’t think you realize how unique that is. I’ve worked in a small business setting, and I’ve worked for corporations – corporate would never do an IDP for the people in the Plant, which is shocking.

It’s so much pleasure to sit down and talk to the team and ask, “What do you want to do? In what areas do you want to develop?” Then we give them time to develop.

The other thing about Dairyland is that I just think everybody here cares about each other. Most people here really want to help each other. If somebody’s in pain the team is there for them — I’ve seen a lot of that.

What would you say to an employer or leader who says they don’t have time to invest?  

I would say this: Dairyland’s core value centers around investing in people. You can’t say you haven’t got the time. That time invested in somebody will save you somewhere else. You have to find the time. If you truly can’t invest in the people that work with you, there’s something a little bit wrong there. Money’s one thing, but if you do the right things, that comes. When you put the right people in the right job and you invest in the right people, naturally sales will come, naturally the job gets done, naturally the company makes money.

What tidbit of wisdom would you leave us with? 

First, be patient because people develop at different speeds. There are steps to get there, and sometimes some of those steps take you backwards because you’ve gone a little too far too fast. You need to slow down because you’re missing some of the key stuff to get you to the end. You can’t just jump from here to here; there’s a process involved.

Second, it’s important to have a good network of people to talk to. I have a particular style, and it might not suit everybody. But if you have a network of different people—all with different styles—it then helps you work out what sort of style resonates best with the different people on your team.

And lastly, hard work pays off.


Thank you, Robert, for sharing your wisdom and approach with us!