Help farm workers meet goals with performance evaluations

Posted on July 20, 2015 in Dairy Performance
By Jim Lewis and Andy Nytes
Improving farm business performance presents an everyday challenge for employers and owners.  Continuing at the current level of performance is never really considered an option for goal-oriented people, whether they are owners or supervisors.

As managers, however, we quickly learn that we cannot accomplish improved performance on our own.

Motivating employees to join our quest for improvement requires they understand several key things, including the goals of the organization and how their work impacts these goals.  The essence of a performance evaluation is this:  Communicate management’s perspective of job performance and provide guidance and direction to employees to improve their contributions as they grow professionally.

The evaluation process
Receiving feedback in a formal setting is different than a supervisor simply saying “good job” or criticizing performance in a specific situation.  An evaluation draws on a more comprehensive look at an employee’s performance rather than a single episode or situation.

The process provides an opportunity for two-way dialogue in which the employee can seek clarification on the situation.  The discussion can also enable a supervisor to understand the employee’s own aspirations.  During the conversation, the supervisor can identify ways employees can grow within their current roles and gain experience to prepare them for other responsibilities.

The process must begin by setting expectations and ensuring employees fully understand them.  Sit down with the employee and start a discussion about the organization’s goals and how the employee can contribute to them.  This discussion builds the employee’s development plan.  He or she is then accountable to and evaluated against the defined expectations.

The most common approach is the direct supervisor/employee review.  The supervisor primarily draws on his or her knowledge and observations of the employee over a set period of time.

Some may modify this approach and ask the employee to identify peers or co-workers to assist in the evaluation.  This is often done in environments where a supervisor oversees a large team or area of the farm and would not have first-hand knowledge of every person’s performance.

This strategy may be further expanded to a 360 review.  Most often, this feedback will include direct feedback from an employee’s subordinates, peers/colleagues, and supervisors, as well as a self-evaluation.

A good evaluation can validate work and provide a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.  However, some situations call for recognition beyond normal feedback to both motivate and praise an employee’s performance that has gone beyond expectations.

Rewards are typically most effective when delivered in a group setting.  This not only serves to reinforce the individual’s performance, but also sends a message to other employees about what you, as an employer, value in your team.

The concept of “rounding” has been around for many years.  At the most basic level, a manager designates a block of time to simply stroll through the workplace with no set agenda other than to talk to employees.  Rounding shows the manager cares about employees as individuals in addition to how they perform in their job roles.

As with any employee management tools, the employee performance evaluation process requires time, open discussion and much thought.  To be effective, the process requires a commitment to frequent, continual communication, setting expectations, documenting goals in a performance plan, and ensuring employees understand the important roles they play.

This article was originally written for Progressive Dairyman in November 2014. 

About the author:  Jim Lewis is a Vita Plus dairy field service specialist in northwest Wisconsin.  He has an extensive background and practical experience in the dairy industry.  From 1982 to 1995, he owned and managed a 180-cow dairy in Minnesota.  In 1995, he transitioned those management skills to a startup dairy facility, milking approximately 1,100 cows.  He later worked as the manager of the Transition Management Facility (TMF) in Emerald, Wis., where he assisted in facility design, supervised advanced clinical and applied research projects in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, and taught physical examination and diagnostic skills in all aspects of pre- and post-fresh cattle to his fellow employees.  At Vita Plus, Lewis’ goal is to work closely with dairy producers and provide expert knowledge of dairy cattle, feeding strategies, animal husbandry principles and management techniques.

Andy Nytes has been a Vita Plus employee owner since 1998. He grew up on a small dairy farm in eastern Wisconsin.  He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dairy science.  His master’s research focused on the efficacy of bovine somatotropin.  In his current role, he oversees sales management and dairy technical service team members and leads business and employee development projects.

Category: Dairy Performance
Employee management