7 top tips for carrying out effective farm staff reviews

How often do you sit down with your staff and undertake a personal review? 

This isn’t the cup-of-coffee chat where you ask how things are going and more likely than not, receive a one-word response (usually “fine”) as the reply. 

This is a robust, structured and documented review of how things are going for your staff and should give them the opportunity to give you direct feedback.

In this fourth article on staff development, Paul Harris from Real Success outlines 7 top tips on how to run an effective staff review.

1. Prioritise your time for a review:

Spending time listening to your staff is among the most important time you spend on your farm. 

But many farm owners and leaders suggest they don’t have time to carry out a personal review as there is always something more important to do. What does that say to your staff?

Find an hour a year to prioritise a review and it could just be the most valuable hour you’ll spend on your business.

2. Plan it in advance:

If you don’t plan the time in your diary and organise your team – reviews simply won’t happen. 

You need to ensure other team members can cover their colleagues while they’re in their review with you. 

And avoid busy periods like calving where everyone is exhausted or working under pressure.

3. Choose the right setting: 

Reviews should always be in private and therefore local pubs or a busy farm office aren’t suitable. 

Find a quiet area where you can talk without interruptions, as your staff are far more likely to be open if they know that the conversation will not be overheard.

4. Use an external facilitator:

Using an external facilitator such as a HR professional or farm consultant who specialises in staff management can hugely increase the effectiveness of a review. 

It’s often easier for a third party to ask direct questions than it can be for you.

Staff are more likely to give honest answers if the facilitator has also used their skill to probe gently to find the real issues. 

Choose a facilitator who is experienced at running reviews or ask other farmers for recommendations. 

5. Structure the review:

Good reviews have structure. 

Ideally, you should use written documents to allow people to prepare in advance with a list of questions you wish to cover. 

Start with positives on both sides and then move into the more challenging areas or issues to be resolved.

Be careful with scoring systems as they can be divisive and detract from the conversation. 

Always finish with a positive action or agreement of the way forward.

How to structure the review:

Questions to ask the employee (using a written document which they complete themselves ahead of the review):

  • What has gone well?
  • What has been more difficult/challenging?
  • What could the business do to help you?
  • What are your key objectives/areas of focus?
  • Is there anything else you wish to discuss?

Questions that are answered by the farmer (using a written document that the farmer completes ahead of the review):

  • What has gone well?
  • Which areas need to be discussed/worked on?
  • What are your key objectives/areas of focus?

Questions answered during the review (and noted on the written document by the facilitator):

  • Points noted, feedback given, any other relevant information noted during the review.
  • Issued raised that require further discussion/action outside of the review.
  • Any specific training/development agreed.

6. Listen to feedback: 

Reviews are your opportunity to ask questions, listen and hear the views of your team.  

Even if you disagree about performance, if you listen first, you’re more likely to arrive in a positive place than if you simply talk at your staff throughout the review.

7. Don’t forget to adapt each review for different personality types: 

Remember that everyone is different. There will be staff who will be prepared to speak directly about how they’re feeling or thinking.

Others will be far more reticent or nervous about speaking up. This is all about the style of dialogue. 

For example, with someone who prefers to be direct, the review is likely to be shorter, direct and to the point. For those that are more relationship-based, they may worry about the review and will prefer to avoid any conflict so the whole approach may need to be more gentle.  

Use your knowledge of personality styles to adapt each review to suit each member of staff.

Paul Harris is the MD of Real Success – a people consultancy that helps the agricultural sector to improve staff management.  A regular speaker at industry events, Paul is widely recognised as a thought leader and positive advocate of staff development in the agricultural sector.