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The dreaded performance appraisal

Robert Milligan Published on 24 June 2011
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Only firing employees is more disliked by managers than conducting a performance appraisal. Why is this? What should a dairy farm manager do?

The name “performance appraisal” tells us that we are appraising or evaluating performance. The problem is that in most performance appraisals, the appraising of performance becomes the goal of the appraisal.

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Although valuable, appraisal is not really the goal. The goal is to improve performance and enhance job satisfaction. The appraising of performance too often is an end instead of a means to the end of improving performance.

Let’s take a look at an analogy. Very few of us look forward to our annual physical. Why? What is an annual physical? It is really an annual appraisal of the health of our body. We find out if we have any problems, but rarely do we leave the annual physical with ideas and certainly not commitment to improve our health.

Again, the appraisal is the end, not a means to an end of a healthier body. What we really need and might even look forward to is a system for improving our health.

Similarly for the performance appraisal, we need to replace, refocus or supplement it so we have a system that enables dairy farm employees to continuously improve their performance. The focus of our new system must be improved performance, also resulting in greater job satisfaction and motivation.

To meet our goal of improving performance (and job satisfaction), our system must have two key characteristics:

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• It must happen when performance occurs – throughout the year

• It must be a collaborative engagement between the supervisor and the employee or team

The cornerstone of the system I suggest in my teaching and implement with my clients has two components. The first is providing quality feedback continuously – when the performance occurs.

The second is a frequent performance management coaching session between the supervisor and the employee or team of employees. I typically suggest and implement a monthly meeting. This meeting is much less time-consuming – 15 to 30 minutes – and less formal than a performance appraisal.

This is my suggested agenda for the session:

1. Two-questions coaching:

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• What went really well in the last month?

• What could be improved?

2. Discuss the specific measures of performance, comparing actual performance to expectations:

• Review actual performance for the period (month)

• Discuss the performance measures one at a time, concluding with setting the expected value for the next month

3. Discuss specific issues for the next month

4. Other items

5. Ask how the coaching session can be better next month

6. Adjourn

Let’s discuss selected items in the agenda:

Two questions
I have found this two-question coaching system to be extremely effective in involving the employee or team and making the system truly collaborative. The first question – what went really well in the last month – focuses on the positive and sets a great tone for the session.

The second question – what could be improved – has two advantages. First, it does not put the employee on the defensive, as it does not ask what went wrong. Second, you can insist on an answer, as there are always areas for improvement.

Try it! When asked sincerely and patiently, you will be amazed by what you learn and the employee engagement that will result.

Actual performance compared to expected performance
This is the heart of the system. You must work with the employee or team to develop specific performance measures and expected performance goals for each month. The comparison should have a coaching and forward-looking tone.

The primary objective is to improve performance, not to simply determine whether the goal was met. If the goal was not met, view it as being behind 2-1 after the third inning of a baseball game. What are we going to do so we are tied or ahead after the fourth inning and beyond?

How the session can be better next month
This is a quick item to provide opportunities to continuously improve the session. You may go months with no input and then a great idea emerges. Keep asking but do not pressure.

Please email me at for a Word file containing the agenda and a worksheet to assist with the expected compared to actual performance levels.

I realize many of you feel compelled to complete an annual performance appraisal. In my use of this performance coaching system, an annual meeting is still required. The focus of this meeting – the annual meeting – is on the longer-term issues of training/professional development and career development.

For your seasonal workers, it will focus on the opportunities they will have (or not have) if they return for another year. For continuing employees, it will focus on their continuing training and professional development needs and future opportunities with the dairy farm business.

The bottom line: Performance improvement requires a system that operates every day the employee is employed! PD

Although valuable, appraisal is not really the goal. The goal is to improve performance and enhance job satisfaction. Photo courtesy of Thinkstock Photography.

Robert A. Milligan

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