The People in Dairy
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Performance appraisals

Communication and feedback on performance should happen every day where people are working together effectively, but regular structured appraisals are also important to enhance individual and business performance.

Structured performance appraisals are a review and planning process. An employee and their manager meet at regular intervals to review all aspects of the employee’s job including their work performance (behaviour and performance results), to plan activities and targets, discuss any workplace issues, and identify opportunities for on-going education, training and development.

The process aims to:

  • enhance work quality, effectiveness and efficiency of the individual through constructive feedback and ongoing development;
  • align the person’s work activities with the strategic vision of the farm;
  • reach joint agreement on the priorities and focus for each role in the coming months;
  • clarify performance measures and expectations including standards of work, roles and responsibilities;
  • enhance team culture by reinforcing policies, protocols and proactive management of relationships;
  • increase job satisfaction through setting new challenges and recognition of achievements; 
  • reflect on recent events and experiences so the lessons are ‘front of mind’ in the future; and
  • promote consultation and commitment to the planned approach.

And by repeating the cycle regularly, it becomes a systematic and valued way of helping people develop and improve performance.


Set a date for the performance appraisal

Performance appraisals are best held at least every 6 months. More frequent appraisals might be important if someone changes role (even temporarily) or during times of rapid change or unusual activity in the business. For new staff, you may want to have monthly meetings followed with a review at the end of the probationary period (see our recruitment section for information on probationary reviews).

Once the appraisal process is established, consider a specific focus rather than a general appraisal. Choose areas that will add maximum value - e.g. animals and pastures, people and relationships, maintenance and development. This enables you to go to work on specific areas where performance or the relationship can grow. 

Plan to hold meetings at a time when the workload is not at a peak. It is important to show that appraisals are part of the normal operations of the business and won’t be put off simply because another job comes along. There should be adequate notice given to the employee about the purpose and process involved, as well as inviting them to think about issues they would like to discuss.

Ensure the meeting is held in a comfortable and private space so the discussion can be honest, constructive and without the risk of interruption. For the first few meetings allow sufficient time to get used to the process – you are starting with a blank page.

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Prepare for the meeting in advance

Get a head start with the performance appraisal

Employers should assess how well the person has performed against the position description using a performance appraisal sheet. Employees should prepare for the appraisal through a 'self review' - ideally using the same performance appraisal sheet that is used by the reviewer. This will prompt them to think about their achievements and save time in the meeting. 

This process may identify a performance gap, requiring both parties need to agree on the gap and how to fill it.

In the week before the meeting, the manager should consider:

  • the individual's performance against the position description (ideally using a performance appraisal sheet to assist evaluation);
  • the main areas of work and activities over the next few months;
  • what the person will be asked to do and whether it is consistent with their position description ;
  • how the activities match the farm's priorities and its strategic vision;
  • what the mid-long term future of the employee is with the business, and any development required to meet that outcome – for example, 'succession plans'; and
  • the options they have on offer for reward (only relevant for appraisals that coincide with reviews of terms and conditions of employment - usually carried out annually).

The individual is responsible for:

  • preparing for the appraisal through a 'self review' - ideally using the same performance appraisal sheet that is used by the reviewer;
  • putting together information to show the degree to which activities were completed from the previous review period and to what standard;
  • thinking about what’s happened and whether they have any issues they would like to discuss - from working through why something didn’t happen to suggesting better ways of doing things; and
  • reviewing how they would like to develop personally or professionally (for example skills or information that would help them with their current responsibilities as well as what they would like to be able to be doing in two to three years time).

Information from 2 documents will help guide and focus the preparation:

  • the position description for the job; and
  • the performance appraisal for this person (showing the agreed previous actions).

If these are not available, the first couple of meetings are an opportunity to set them up.


Using the Generator tool you can build position descriptions for every person on the farm by selecting the appropriate duties and responsibilities and customising them to your farm situation. 

The Performance Appraisal Sheet for Assistant Farm Hands to Production Managers provides prompts for discussing the actions of the previous review period as well as enabling you to document agreed actions for the next review period. Note: this should be adjusted to complement the position description.

Meet to do the performance appraisal (a two-way discussion)

To communicate effectively, the key elements of meetings (whether formal or relaxed) are:

  • that discussion is two-way. Both parties need to talk and to listen too!
  • there is sufficient time for both manager and individual to give and receive constructive and helpful feedback (we can all improve what we do)
  • the planned workload is do-able; and 
  • the interaction is motivational

Review the actions agreed at the last meeting

Where possible use the previous appraisal to guide the discussion. 

Review the performance against the position description

This is the time for the individual and the manager to share their evaluation of how the role is going against the position description. The priority should be to compare the performance ratings. Most discussion should be focussed on areas where performance ratings differ.

A positive rating from the individual compared to a lower rating from the manager suggests that the individual may not fully understand the expectations of the role. A high rating from the manager and a low rating from the individual could indicate a lack of confidence. This is the time to be objective and listen for indicators of what may be limiting performance.

Most importantly, it is an opportunity to assess whether a lack of skills or inappropriate attitudes are limiting performance. Skills can be developed through training. The limitations of attitude can only be overcome by the person who owns them.

Avoid any discriminatory comments or actions

Remember that equal opportunity and discrimination laws apply.

If expectations are not being met, explore why

People may not have fully understood (or agreed) with what is expected. Perhaps they lack the right tools, skills, knowledge or support to get the job done or there are other things going on (on farm or personally). Or maybe the expectations of management are too high. See Managing under-performance for ideas on how to work through this type of issue.

Jointly plan the activities for the next few months

The manager will have a strategic farm vision and a team plan for the next few months to meet the core needs of the business. The performance appraisal process is a way of planning areas of work and activities and individual responsibilities to make the ‘big picture’ achievable and ensure their workload is do-able.

In its simplest form the planned actions can be a list of tasks that clearly describe the person’s role within each task (especially whether they “are responsible for” or “assist”) and date for completion of the task. This list can be recorded in the ‘Action’ column of the Performance Appraisal Sheet

The way the actions are described should reflect any agreed changes in the approach or arrangements that have just arisen from the performance review. It is also important to ensure the planned actions support on-going skills development (see skills development and mentoring for ideas). 

New people will need education and training

People new to the farm will be relatively unfamiliar with procedures and cannot be expected to work efficiently and effectively without some on-the-job training.

As well as a description of the agreed actions, you can develop more sophisticated plans by:

  • packaging the actions into work areas (milking, feed management, teamwork etc.);
  • describing the proportion of the total workload each work area represents (e.g. 50% milk harvesting, 20% animal husbandry and young stock, 20% feed management and delivery, 10% maintenance);
  • listing agreed targets (or key performance indicators) for the person to achieve in each area, by when, and ways of measuring them
  • (less commonly) rating the degree of difficulty the action presents – which can be helpful in enriching the discussion and exposing hidden obstacles.

If the plan is good, the person it belongs to will consider some elements challenging and that, as a whole, it is very achievable. No one should leave the meeting feeling overwhelmed. If there is any suggestion of this check that:

  • the workload is reasonable and achievable;
  • the targets are realistic and can be directly influenced by the person;
  • you (the manager) haven’t inadvertently set objectives that were not discussed;
  • each action is clearly described and understood;
  • the person is able (technically competent and supported) to do the task;
  • the agreed actions and standard of work are consistent with the position description for the job and have good coverage of the duties and responsibilities; and
  • the workload fits the calendar of other events on farm, public and school holidays, and leave arrangements of other workers

Review conditions of employment

Not all appraisals include salary reviews; however, all appraisals should include an opportunity to discuss the application of agreed terms of employment. Use this opportunity to confirm that salary and time off requirements are being met. Also include questions regarding accommodation or other aspects of the package.

Salary reviews are usually carried out annually. If this is to occur at an appraisal, let the individual know this will be a topic for discussion. The priority is to deal with this in the context of the role and the individual's performance.

To assist the discussion, the individual can be invited to think about their expected reward level and employers can carry out an investigation of market rates. Comparing each party's position in a constructive and transparent manner enables this important aspect of the relationship to be maintained.

Summing up the meeting

When pulling the discussion together:

  • summarise what’s been achieved since the last appraisal meeting, reinforcing the contribution of the person;
  • recap any significant gaps that were identified during the discussions (things not done or processes that need improving)
    • check they are still a priority,
    • check that both parties are committed to change, and
    • restate what the next steps are (as discussed);
  • run through the planned activities for the individual and check that this is what’s been agreed;
  • explain monitoring and timelines proposed for any remedial strategies;
  • confirm commitments to training; and
  • if appropriate, reward a job well done! (see Reward and recognition for ideas to suit your farm situation or the particular employee).

Take action on issues raised during the review

It is important to follow-up issues that arise during the performance appraisal discussions so the whole process can fulfill its basic function of improving work performance. This includes documenting what has been agreed and having both the individual and their manager sign and date it (this is not a contract but shows commitment to an agreed plan).

And for managers, the performance appraisal process itself should be reviewed. Ask your employees if the process helps them to clearly understand what you want them to achieve and how. If your performance targets are not being met or you are not seeing the results that you expected, question whether you are measuring the right things or rewarding the right behaviour. Don’t abandon the process, make the necessary changes to get it right.

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