Types of employee performance categories
Managers report two primary areas where unsatisfactory performance often occurs on their farms. These include performance shortfalls categorized as job-task related. The second area where performance can fall is due to unsatisfactory work habits.
Job-task performance shortfalls occur when employees are unable or unwilling to carry out the standard operating procedures that are a part of their particular job assignment.
Examples might include an employee’s failure to feed livestock according to protocols. A worker might not properly sanitize milking equipment as outlined in the procedures.
Or, an individual may fail to change the oil or grease farm machinery according to established schedules. Job-task performance shortfalls need to be addressed anytime an employee fails to meet standard procedures or protocols.
Sean Jones of Jones Family Farm in Massey, Delaware, tells us, “We have written protocols that are explained in detail to our employees. We try to get everyone involved so they can understand and buy-in to our protocols.”
“Most people want to do a good job and follow directions. For this reason, it’s important protocols are well understood. Particularly when there is a language barrier, make sure employees understand the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ of the way you want things done.”
Work-habit performance problems include being late, not getting along with other employees, lack of cooperation with teammates, etc.
Producer Mark Mayo of Mayo’s Dairy in LeGrand, California, tells us, “Employees learn early on there are ‘negotiable’ and ‘non-negotiable’ items when it comes to job performance and work-habit issues. They know we have certain lines that cannot be crossed.
“For example, drugs and alcohol. These are lines no one will cross. If an employee comes to work drunk, we show him the door. Also, there will be no profanity on our farm. Although everybody slips once in a while, our employees know that around this work environment, it’s going to be a clean, hardworking, respectable place to work.”
Don’t major on the minors
It’s important for managers and supervisors to establish clear expectations and deal with performance shortfalls when they occur. However, it’s equally important to remember any employee can have a bad day.
Mayo continues, “I’ve found if I ‘major on the minors,’ I’ll discourage my employees. So, I try to define what things are really important on this farm and then not ‘nit-pick’ employees on every little thing.”
Why does performance fall short?
Performance problems exist when an employee’s work results fall below established standards. Fortunately, most performance shortfalls have causes supervisors can positively address. These include lack of knowledge or understanding of the job.
Dan DeRuyter, in Outlook, Washington, tells us, “Most of the people who come to work for us have never worked on our farm before. As a result, they will work like they did on the previous farm where they were employed. If we don’t train them to do what we want, whose fault is that?”
Sometimes, employees perform poorly because they are like a round peg in a square hole. This person might do better reassigned to a different job where they have more interest and ability.
Lamar Anthony of Anthony’s Dairy in Americus, Georgia, tells us, “We hired an employee with the understanding he was going to milk cows. He needed a job and said he would learn to milk. However, he was afraid of animals and didn’t work out. We discovered he was excellent with machinery. Now he’s one of our best tractor operators.”
Sometimes employees underperform because of us. When we invest time and effort into improving our own capabilities as supervisors, we can positively impact our employees’ job performance.
Poor performance will not improve on its own
Implications of looking the other way
Addressing performance shortfalls is important for two reasons. First, when employees do not meet standards, they are not likely to improve on their own. Second, a poorly performing employee will negatively impact the performance of other workers on the team.
Gary Sterk of Bos Dairy, LLC in Fair Oaks, Indiana, comments, “If you don’t address the situation, it creates a bad attitude within the whole crew. Then, other employees are not only mad at the employee who is not doing his job, but they are also mad at you because you’re not correcting the situation.”
What you accept is what you get
Jon Wheeler of Oord Dairy in Sunnyside, Washington, explains, “Unfortunately, it’s easy for a manager to look the other way and accept mediocre performance. Because turnover takes time and money, we get lazy and take the easy way out by sometimes ignoring poor performance.”
“However, because of the negative impacts on morale and on the farm’s overall performance, we have to force ourselves to raise the bar and address performance shortfalls when they do occur.”
Terry Dye of Dyecrest Dairy, LLC in Fort Collins, Colorado, notes a positive impact when managers quickly address problems. He comments, “There is a point where letting a person go, raises the level for everybody else. All employees know who’s not pulling their weight. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator.”
Performance management is an everyday job
Every supervisor knows top performance doesn’t just happen. Monitoring performance and coaching employees is a constant job. When we asked farm managers to describe their plans for ongoing performance management, they offered these tips:
Managers need to know their employees and have a positive relationship with each one.
Rod Hissong of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, tells us, “There are almost always reasons behind why an employee is not doing the job; problems at home, problems with the job or conflict with another employee. If a manager knows his employees, he or she can sit down and talk.”
•Use one-minute appraisals
When performance slips, address the situation quickly. Continually offer one-minute compliments and one-minute coaching.
Hank Wagner of Wagner’s Dairy in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, explains, “If someone on our farm has a poor attitude or there is a problem with their work performance, it needs to be addressed in 24 hours. Find out what’s going on with them, and talk it through.”
•Reserve formal appraisals for the big picture
Many managers make the mistake of saving up their comments on poor performance until the formal performance reviews.
Hissong notes, “I use the semi-annual performance appraisal for big picture things such as how the employee sees his job going and what interests he has. And we discuss where I see them going in their job. It’s not a time I critique people as to what they did two months ago. That discussion needs to happen the day of or the day after it happened. Communication is key.”
•Get professional human resources help
Every employee deserves to be treated fairly. They need to know where they stand and be given every opportunity to grow and improve. And, they need to understand their employer’s disciplinary procedures.
To handle performance issues legally and effectively, contact your human resource professionals who can provide guidelines and procedures that can be incorporated into your farm’s employment manual. PD
—From Horizons, November 2006
Director of Consulting Services for Cooperative Resources International
To contact Jim,
e-mail him at
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