Performance and discipline


7 min read

Performance management cycle Plan Monitor and measure Feedback Coaching and training Performance review

Effective performance management is vital for dairy farms to maximize team productivity. The process involves planning, monitoring, feedback, coaching, and performance reviews. Engage employees in goal setting, provide regular feedback, and use specific monitoring methods. Recognize and reward good performance while addressing underperformance with training and coaching. If necessary, issue warnings or, as a last resort, consider dismissal following a fair process. Understanding different personalities and communication styles can also enhance staff management. Engage employees, manage conflict, and maintain a drug-free workplace to ensure a motivated and efficient team.

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.

Try these 5 steps for on-the-job and one-on-one reviews

Managing performance diagram


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 goals for the season.

2. Monitor and measure

Observe each team member and give regular, constructive, and specific feedback. To measure performance, reviewing records such as herd mating results, somatic cell count, feed wedge, and milk grades, can help.

Monitoring methods include:

  • Observation - your own plus feedback from other staff or contractors
  • 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

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 your employee approaches their tasks, the results achieved, teamwork, attention to health and safety and any other relevant behaviour.

If you see your employee doing a great job, recognise their efforts by positive comments, thanks, and the occasional reward (e.g. movie tickets). Praise and recognition is very motivating and will help you retain quality staff. 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. Jot down notes about what your employee is doing well and what they need to improve in your diary throughout the year, these will be very helpful for recapping where things are at during the monthly catchups and for evaluating your employee’s performance at the formal performance review.

3. Feedback

This is an important part of the process and is an essential part of communication in the workplace. It can be done informally at catchup sessions or at the formal performance reviews - it should be regular so it becomes a normal part of how you do things.

It builds trust and loyalty in your team and works on the fact that most people want to do a good job. Feedback that acknowledges good work will motivate your staff to continue to perform well, and even to improve. Feedback can also be used as a corrective measure.

To have the most impact feedback should be specific, constructive, given as soon as possible (at an appropriate time and place), and it should be written down for performance review time.

Giving quality feedback

Positive feedback: should be specific and about a particular piece of work so that it has real meaning. It is very motivational to acknowledge the things staff are doing well - even when other parts of their work may not be up to scratch. Be sincere and show your appreciation for their good work.

Corrective feedback: will suggest areas for improvement and can result in much-improved behaviour. This kind of feedback needs to be specific and about what has been observed and how it can be improved. Take special care when giving corrective feedback; some people find it difficult to hear constructive suggestions. Start by commending the things they have done well then follow with the recommendation to help someone be more receptive 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 is important to provide any support that might be necessary to help them improve the performance, such as training or coaching.

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 you need to decide how to best manage this and a lot depends on the particular circumstances:

  • Feedback should always be specific about what was observed and what could be improved. If you can't be specific about the nature of the problem it is unfair to give this feedback to the employee. That person won’t be clear about what they did, nor do they have a chance to explain their side of the story.
  • Instead, treat this feedback as motivation to do your own observations. Spend some time working alongside the employee, observing what they are doing and helping them when you see them struggling. This approach helps address issues early and at a low level and it avoids potential bad feeling within the team.

4. Coaching and training

This can be on farm and include learning new skills from experienced team members or by specialised training providers off-farm, e.g. Dairy Training Ltd, Primary ITO. This can also come from discussion groups or working within the team to come up with solutions or advice.

Regular discussions with employees

Monthly catchups and frequent 10-minute chats provide an opportunity to find out what’s happening for the employee - what they’re working on, stock updates, machinery repairs, what’s going well, anything they are behind on etc. They are also a chance to troubleshoot problems and issues and identify any gaps in knowledge or skill.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks on the farm, there’s always so much to do and meeting with each employee takes time. However, they are important and even more so when things are busy and stressful.

5. Performance review

This is a formal discussion where past performance is reviewed, and future actions are discussed. The focus should be 80% looking forward and 20% reviewing. This is the final stage of the cycle before planning for the next period.

Understanding personalities

There are many different tools available for understanding personality. The most important thing to remember is that no person fits completely into one personality type but making the effort to understand your team members, and to communicate with them in the way they are most receptive to, is a very useful staff management tool.

Tips for working better with the four main types of personalities based on the DISC model

Direct personalities
  • Speak in shorter sentences and come straight to the point.
  • They think and respond quickly and have an impatient style.
  • Don't bother with niceties or tell them long stories but keep communication to the point.
Influencing personalities
  • Are bubbly, friendly, informal and use creative language.
  • To communicate effectively, be positive and enthusiastic, and emphasise the value of the person.

Conscientious personalities
  • Speak thoughtfully and precisely with pauses for thinking.
  • Do not interrupt conscientious personalities.
  • Use words like 'It's logical, reasonable, clear ...' and avoid creative, colourful talk.
Stabilising personalities
  • Generally quietly spoken but are friendly and approachable.
  • They need space to speak and should not be interrupted.
  • Use phrases like 'How do you feel about it?', 'I'd be grateful if...' and avoid harsh orders with these people.

Managing poor performance

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.

Steps for managing poor performance

1. Has your employee:

  • had job expectations clearly communicated?
  • had the required behaviour clearly discussed with them?
  • got the right tools and equipment to do the job?
  • received appropriate training for the task and if not why not?
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. Issue a warning

If training and support have not improved an employee’s performance to the required standard, it may be appropriate to issue a warning. A warning should state the standard you expect and the date by which you expect the improvement. A signed and dated copy needs to be given to the employee.

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. The Employment New Zealand website has more information.

Last updated: Sep 2023

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