Performance management


6 min read

Performance management cycle Plan Monitor and measure Feedback Coaching and training Performance review Managing poor performance Additional resources

Having a robust system in place for managing staff performance helps employees stay on track and allows you to get the most from your team. A good performance management process improves communication, recognises and rewards great performance, identifies training opportunities, addresses issues before they escalate, and manages poor performance.

Performance management cycle

Performance management is a process, not an event. It is a continuous cycle that ensures employees know what is expected of them and supports them to achieve (or exceed) those expectations.

1. Plan

For a plan to be successful, employees need to be actively involved in the conversation. Your job descriptions, farm policy and procedures, and annual training plans are useful references and templates for these conversations.

Meet with each team member at the start of the season and agree on:

  • their specific tasks and job responsibilities,
  • your expectations,
  • opportunities for training, and
  • discuss their career goals.

2. Monitor and measure

Observe each team member and give regular, constructive, and specific feedback. Performance monitoring methods include:

  • Observation by yourself and others.
  • Review of records kept by management and staff such as kilograms of milksolids per ha/cow, mating results, feed wedge.
  • Review of records received from other companies such as milk grades, kilograms of milksolids, Environment Agency inspections.
  • Reporting - regular reporting by the employee on agreed topics, such as rotation length, mastitis/lame incidents, machinery repairs.
  • Regular discussions with your employees and feedback from staff or contractors.

Your observations are one of the most important methods for monitoring performance. This will come very naturally if you work alongside your employee daily. If not, try rotating duties so that you have time to work alongside each employee every few days. Observe how they approach their tasks, the results achieved, teamwork, attention to health and safety and any other relevant behaviour.

3. Feedback

Regular feedback and reviews with your team are essential to maintain communication and enhance performance. By committing to regular meetings and using available templates, you can help support your team grow and promptly address any challenges.

Useful feedback meetings include:

One-on-one catchups (weekly or fortnightly)

Regular catchups should take about 15 minutes and if possible, be held at the same time each week. They are especially important when things are busy. Identify and discuss:

  • What is and isn’t going well both individually and in the team.
  • If there are any problems or challenges they need to troubleshoot.
  • Their role in relation to what’s happening on the farm that week.
  • How you can help and support each other.
  • Anything else they would like to raise.

One-on-one reviews (every quarter)

Less formal than a performance review, a one-on-one should only take about 30 minutes to complete. Having these meetings every quarter ensures regular appreciation and positive feedback, prompt handling of potential issues, and provides support or guidance to keep employees on track. Ask your employee:

  • What they enjoy about their job and what the challenges have been.
  • If they have any questions or concerns about their job or the business.
  • What they are looking forward to in the next few months.

Together, review progress towards their training plan, give feedback on their performance and attitude, and discuss upcoming farm targets and how they can help to achieve these.

Feedback can also be given informally. If you see your employees doing a great job, recognise their efforts with positive comments. Praise and recognition are very motivating and will help you retain quality staff.

Feedback can also be used as a corrective measure. If you notice mistakes or problems – or just a more efficient way to tackle a task - share your knowledge and experience. Take a patient and helpful approach and keep things on a positive note.

Giving quality feedback

To have the most impact, feedback should be:

  • Specific and about a particular piece of work so that it has real meaning. Recognising people for the good work they are doing well, even when other aspects of their work may need improvement, is highly motivating. Be sincere and express appreciation for their efforts.
  • Constructive. Recommend areas for improvement to encourage better behaviour. Ensure feedback is specific, focusing on observed actions and suggesting how they can be improved. Take extra care when giving corrective feedback; some people find it difficult to hear constructive suggestions. Begin by praising their accomplishments, then provide constructive recommendations. This approach helps individuals be more open to corrective feedback. Use sentence starters like “I like how you…" followed by "I would like to see you…” to specify what they need to improve. It’s important to provide any necessary support to help them improve, such as training or coaching.
  • Timely. It has more impact if you can give the feedback as soon as possible, at an appropriate time and place. It should be written down for reference at performance review time.

Feedback from other staff and contractors

Feedback from others on the farm is very helpful, especially if you are not working alongside the employee. If you receive positive feedback about your employee, take the time to pass this on.

If you receive negative feedback, it’s important to assess the situation and decide the best course of action. Spend time working alongside the employee, observing their actions, and assisting them when they encounter difficulties. This proactive approach helps address issues early on and prevents potential conflicts within the team.

4. Coaching and training

New skills can be learned either on-farm from experienced team members or through specialised training providers off the farm-such as Dairy Training Ltd, and Primary ITO. Additionally, attending DairyNZ groups or collaborating within the team to come up with solutions or advice is beneficial.

More information on coaching and training.

5. Performance review

This is a formal discussion held every 6 or 12 months, where past performance is reviewed, and future actions are discussed. Allow at least an hour of uninterrupted time and ensure you have both had time to reflect on the training plan and prepare before the meeting.

The focus should be 80% looking forward and 20% reviewing. This is the final stage of the cycle before planning for the next period.

Effective performance management involves regular discussions about expectations, addressing issues at an early stage, and can help prevent escalation to disciplinary situations.

Areas of discussion in performance reviews should include:

  • Are expectations and responsibilities being met?
  • Celebrating achievements.
  • Areas in which your employee requires extra support or training.
  • Progress of the training plan.
  • Review of goals for the future and agree how these can be achieved.
  • What the business targets are and how the team will achieve them.
  • Any concerns or suggestions for themselves or the job.

If the employee is new and inexperienced, it’s a good idea to do their first review after six months, or at the end of a seasonal period e.g., end of calving, end of mating.

Managing poor performance

Raise any concerns about poor performance with your employee as soon as you can. Give specific details and highlight what you would like to see done differently. If managed well, poor performance rarely needs to turn into a disciplinary process.

If an employee is consistently underperforming, something needs to be done. Research shows that where a manager tolerates non-performance, other high-performing team members are more likely to leave. If you are dealing with someone who is not performing well, you might consider shortening their review period. When approaching a performance concern conversation:

  • Work for an understanding rather than a complete agreement - you can agree to disagree.
  • Be firm but fair and allow the employee to explain their behaviour and make improvements.
  • Be specific about the improvements you expect and the process you're following.
  • Monitor the employee to make sure they are improving and support them to do this.
  • Record any concerns and conversations you have about performance or behaviour.

Steps for managing poor performance

1. Has your employee:

  • Had job expectations clearly communicated?
  • Had the required behaviour clearly outlined to them?
  • Got the right tools and equipment to do the job?
  • Received appropriate training for the task?
If yes to the above questions: If no to the above questions:
  • Highlight which expectations and/or behaviours are not being met.
  • Explain exactly how you expect them to improve.
  • Ask for their point of view.
  • If this discussion is enough to see improvement, then no further action is required. Make a note in a diary about the discussion to monitor improvement.
  • Discuss with your employee the provision of training or coaching to help them achieve your expectations.
  • Have an open and fair discussion and make it clear that if no improvement is obvious by a specific date, they will be placed under performance management and further disciplinary action may be taken.
  • Take thorough notes, have them signed and dated by you and your employee, and give them a copy.
  • You need to show your employee you have done your best to help them improve their performance.

2. Performance improvement plan

Managing performance is different to a disciplinary process. It is up to the employer to try and resolve performance issues in good faith and follow the correct process. This means providing the employee with a real opportunity to improve. Employment New Zealand has further information and links to Performance Improvement Plan templates to guide you through this process.

3. Dismissal

Dismissal is the last resort. A strict legal process needs to be followed to prove that the dismissal was fair and reasonable. It is advisable to get expert advice on employment law before starting the dismissal process. Learn more about the dismissal process.

Last updated: May 2024

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