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Posted by Lori Culler

It may sound radical for someone in the human resource business to admit, but I am a big fan of ditching annual performance reviews. Before we can talk about why that’s a new trend, it might be best to see where reviews originated in the first place and why they are changing now.

Performance reviews have been around for decades and were designed as a tool for managers and employees to review performance and justify their pay. Reviews have morphed constantly over the years in terms of structure, content and approach. Best practices today are to align individual employee goals with the direction of the business. HR departments have become strong at partnering with other execs to say “what matters” and how to match that with employee goals.

Historically, all performance reviews have come with some type of rating or ranking system. Let’s say for example a 5 equals exceeds performance expectations whereas a 3 would equal meets performance expectations. Often your rating would be tied to bonuses and performance increases. I have gone through many performance reviews in my past and have been on both sides of the desk. Early in my career, I remember being distraught getting a 4 in an area instead of a 5. It’s like being an all-A student and finding out you got a B. Horrifying, right?

Wait, so what’s the whole point of the review again? Isn’t a performance review ideally supposed to boost performance? The million-dollar question for all businesses is how to increase performance of human capital. This whole question of whether the annual performance review is actually influencing performance has been on the minds of some very large corporations. GE had been famous for its bell-curved performance review ranking system. Now GE — along with other large companies like Adobe — are moving away from the annual review altogether.

Think about what is really behind employee motivation. We all know from research that it includes things like seeing the impact of their contribution, autonomy in their work, or being part of a work culture they love, so it’s no shocker that employers are moving away from the historical practice. Some of the larger companies are adopting online tools to provide anytime feedback, which means employees can be receiving short, quick communication throughout the year.

So what does this mean for farm business owners? More ongoing touchpoints and coaching is the name of the game today. How can we take some of what the large companies are doing and relate it to the business of farming?

Verbal feedback should be occurring on a daily basis. We’re not talking full sit-down meetings, just one-liners on what you thought of an employee’s performance of a task or project. For example, an employee took an initiative to do something they weren’t asked; instead of saying “thanks,” give a little more detail such as, “Thanks for taking the time to organize the parts shelf. Shop organization is really important, and when you take that initiative, it sets the tone in the shop. Appreciate it.” The best feedback comes with a little detail called the “why” behind it.

I have to admit, we started one in our office after a suggestion from one of our employees, and I am really impressed with it. Since everyone is busy working, sometimes we don’t take the time to celebrate the wins. A brag board on a farm can be an area where both management and employees write down accomplishments. Ideally, you would like to see things like “Planted 100 acres yesterday” or “50 more acres to plant and we are finished.” Managers can give recognition to employees so everyone can see. Who doesn’t like public recognition from the owners?

At our weekly team meetings, each individual shares their focus for the week, any accomplishments and any areas where they are struggling so we can brainstorm as a team to support them. It’s also a platform to discuss any short-term goals. On the farm, you might discuss the overall plan for the week and in-season goals such as how many acres we would like to see planted per day if weather is decent.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what’s worked on your farm. How do you motivate staff, and how have you been giving feedback informally throughout the year versus a formal process?

Lori Culler, Owner AgHires

Communicate expectations with these more frequent (and less stressful!) methods
Lori Culler

Lori Culler

Lori Culler (Lennard), founder and owner of AgHires, grew up in and around the Agricultural Industry on her family's 3rd generation potato, tomato, and grain operation in Southeast Michigan and Northern Indiana.