Performance and discipline
7 min read
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 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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.