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Keep your best employees engaged and reduce turnover with an annual performance review.

Tim Schaefer, Founder

November 19, 2021

6 Min Read
Post-it note pinned to a board saying Good Job!

Have you been blindsided by a great employee leaving? They worked for you for a year or so, and it appeared everything was going great. They showed up on time, did the work, and didn't create problems. Yet here you are again -- a great employee is leaving and you have a slot to fill.

Labor has always been tight, but finding and keeping top farm talent has reached a crisis point over the last couple years. Finding good team players is hard. But, once you have hired someone and showed them the ropes, you can relax, right? 


Hiring is just a small piece of the employee puzzle, because your farm has to keep good employees from leaving --and sometimes that isn't easy. So many things go into keeping an employee coming back year after year. They all fall under the banner of Employee Engagement.

There are probably more sophisticated definitions, but employees who have "bought in" are engaged and those who haven't are prone to leave. In fact, employees who are not engaged in their work are twice as likely to leave.

More than pay

Employee engagement isn't only about wages and benefits. In surveying employees over the last ten years, we found communication between owners and employees almost always gets low marks. Yet, we constantly hear employees tell us they want more communication.

One communication tool often misunderstood is the employee review. Cue the groans! I get it. Employee reviews are not a favorite topic for many managers, but they will keep you from being blindsided with high turnover.

The key is a simple process that actually gets done. When it comes to reviews, ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect.’

Let's look at some ideas and tactics:

  • Great employees crave feedback because they want to get better. They also want to give you feedback.  

  • Getting and giving feedback helps you understand what's important to them. If they believe you understand them, they will be inclined to stay.

  • Everyone likes to have their thoughts heard and being listened to builds trust on both sides.

  • Employees like to understand how their work fits into the overall farm strategy and goals. They need to see the big picture beyond their specific job.

  • Keep it structured but casual and in a neutral setting. Your office may not be the best place for reviews. Instead, think of using a conference room where you can have a private conversation.

  • It's not about money. We want the employee to be able to look at their performance objectively. Bringing money into this conversation will pollute the process, and feedback will suffer. Keep money out of it, and the employee will hear your messages.

Tactics for painless reviews

Have a visit - A great way to have employee reviews is to let them do most of the talking. You want to hear what's on their mind. Then they will be ready to listen to what you have to say. This is at the heart of my '4 Question Employee Review'. It requires the employee to reflect and rate their own performance. When the employee rates themselves, you understand how close your assessment is to their own. Suppose you have an employee that consistently rates themselves high in all areas, but you feel otherwise. In that case, another conversation about job expectations may be in order.

Self-assessments require a high degree of trust by both parties. Not every employee will naturally have the level of confidence to be candid about themselves. If not, build that trust so they are comfortable being open with you. Note: new employees may have a more difficult rating because they are still learning the ropes. Don't expect as much feedback from them.    

Prepare Your Thoughts - Reviews work best when you take the time to prepare what you will cover. Don't wing it but instead, write down your thoughts. Create an outline or template you will use with each employee. This way each review will follow the same pattern. If you want to use our premade template, request one here

Prepare the Employee - No one likes surprises, so give them at least several days' heads up that a review is coming.  Ask them to think about what they believe is working well and what needs improving, Set the expectation that this will be a two-way conversation and you want their feedback, just as you will be giving feedback to them.    

Praise, Criticism, Praise - People hear negative comments more than praise. So give them two parts praise for every piece of constructive criticism. Even if they have severe criticism coming, cover their positives at a ratio of 2 to 1. Talk about the good the employee has done and how it positively affects the company and team. Then give a constructive critique of areas they could improve on. Follow that up with more praise and a discussion on how they can improve their standing in the company when weak areas are ironed out. Always end with praise. Note: if you can't come up with twice the praise for every criticism, it might be a sign this employee isn't a fit or needs more coaching.

Three Specifics - Give examples of the good jobs they have done, and give examples of when their job was not up to par. When praise and criticism is very specific it takes on more meaning and it lets the employee know you are aware of what they are accomplishing. Do not tell someone they are doing a "Good Job." A good job can mean different things to different people. Tell the employee WHY you felt the job was good and HOW their good job affects the rest of the company. Many employees don't understand how their actions affect the rest of the team and the farm's success. Finally, keep the feedback to no more than three main points. People can easily remember three main points, but anything over five is easily forgotten.

Document and Follow up - Take notes of what you said and what they said. Write down the corrections they agreed to, as well as what they are doing well. This will form the starting point for the next review. Before the review ends, give a summary. Follow up with each employee in person or a phone call to see if they have any questions or comments. A week is about the right amount of time for the follow-up.

Done is better than perfect 

The best reviews are the ones that get done. Simplify your process until it's easy and quick. Twenty minutes is often long enough. The first reviews will not be perfect and that's okay. While not every company can have multiple employee reviews throughout the year, it is crucial that employees receive some feedback.

While reviews  may not be your favorite task, it sure beats being blindsided by a departing employee. On the flip side, many farms aren't paying enough attention to employee engagement and communication, like reviews. When you do, it puts your farm a cut above the competition. And as we all know, competition for good employees is fierce.

You can request a copy of the 4 QUESTION EMPLOYEE REVIEW online.

Schaefer is an executive management coach and succession planner for farms and agribusinesses. If you have a management or succession planning question, contact [email protected].

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 



About the Author(s)

Tim Schaefer

Founder, Encore Wealth Advisors

Tim Schaefer guides large, successful farm operations, helping them get and keep a competitive edge. His tools are peer groups via the Encore Executive Farmer Network, transition planning, business growth planning, and executive coaching. His print column, Transitions & Strategies, appears regularly in Farm Futures and online at He is a Certified Family Business Advisor, Certified Business Coach and Certified Financial Planner. Raised on a successful family farm, his first business venture was selling sweet corn door to door with an Oliver 70.

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