How to deal with performance management issues
The aim of a performance management process is primarily to support employees to meet the required standard of the role and the function should not be seen as a means to ‘manage a staff member out’.
Dismissal should be the last reasonable resort, after exhausting the informal process and following the formal process.
The reason managers and employers avoid performance management discussions is because it can be uncomfortable and tricky to deal with, but if you follow the tips set out below you can be assured of a through and fair process.
1. Find and use the correct policy and procedure
Familiarise yourself with your company’s internal Capability and Disciplinary Procedures, or if you don’t have these policies in place, refer to the relevant ACAS guidance.
2. Be mindful of the different stages of the process for managing performance issues and set your expectations accordingly.
Improving performance requires time, as well as effort from both the employee and the manager.
3. Normalise performance conversations.
Highlight both positives and any shortfalls in performance regularly at one-to-ones. In doing so there is likely to be less adversity in the staff member’s reaction to performance concerns, as discussions of this kind won’t come as a surprise.
It will also make it easier to have conversations when issues do arise.
4. Act early and informally.
If you are not timely to address performance shortfalls, they can become entrenched, potentially resulting in the staff member being more reluctant to change and improve. By acting early, the staff member may offer solution suggestions or request specific support that can quickly resolve the issue.
5. Plan and prepare in advance for performance conversations.
Allocate time, in a confidential setting, when you will not be distracted and can actively listen to the staff member.
Be clear on your concerns and expectations. Give the staff member time and space to explain the situation as they see it.
6. Be aware of the difference between potential capability and disciplinary issues.
Is it a skill or a will issue?
Is there serious negligence involved?
7. Don’t make assumptions and be curious about the issue
It often requires a meaningful discussion with the staff member to unravel whether performance issues are routed by capability or conduct (or a combination of both). When having a performance related conversation, adopt a curious tone, rather than accusatory or punitive, in order to have the best chance of understand the reasoning behind performance related issues.
8. Reflect upon and acknowledge your role in their performance
Be reflective of your role in the staff member’s performance ability. Take responsibility and act on
areas where support and/or input from you has been lacking. Ask yourself: has the staff member had a
thorough induction? did you closely follow the probation procedure? do you hold regular meaningful
9. Are role modelling the positive behaviours and performance you expect?
Don’t assume your staff member knows what is expected of them. Utilise the induction process and probation period to clearly set out the purpose and expectations of the role and continue to provide clarity where required in regular one-to-ones.
10. Do not to benchmark against ‘over achievers’.
Use the job description as the base line for the expected standard. Consider your skill set in addressing poor performance/behaviour. Do you need to adopt a different approach (e.g. coaching and/or mentoring) and/or upskill yourself (e.g. soft-skills management training) to best address the situation?
11. Identify the skills gap and be clear on what this is.
Provide evidence of the standard currently being achieved (e.g. examples, documentation, observations) and the standard expected (e.g. job description, performance appraisal, etc.) and agree a supportive and structured improvement action plan to bridge the gap.
Take notes of all performance conversations and agree them with the staff member at the time or by a follow-up email. Make this your standard practice, so it is not a cause for concern for the staff member. This is in the interest of all parties, to check you are both of the same understanding, as well as to evidence your decision-making process. Notes taken should be factual and unambiguous.
12. Are reasonable adjustments needed?
If your staff member identifies health and/or disability related reasons for shortfalls in their performance, explore all reasonable adjustments that may assist. In this circumstance, consider a referral to Occupation Health and seek further advice Real Employment Law Advice.
13. Make regular enquiries about your staff members’ wellbeing.
If there are welfare issues, particularly if they are of a high concern, often these should be explored and support/signposting provided first, before addressing performance concerns.
If you are in a situation where you are managing and supporting staff member/s with performance related issues, particularly if there are ongoing long-standing issues or concerns of a higher severity, be sure to check in with how you are feeling in terms of this and consider the sources of support available to you (e.g., your manager). You need to ensure you look after your own wellbeing, in order to be an effective source of support and guidance to others.
14. Allow a reasonable period of time for improvement
After identifying and providing support to address performance issues, allow a reasonable amount of time for the staff member to improve. In setting this timeframe, consider:
- Any sector norms (e.g., deadlines every quarter etc).
- the nature of the role and the consequences of failure to perform.
- the length and quality of past service.
- the extent of the underperformance and amount of support needed.
Where possible, agree the timeframe with the staff member to maintain their engagement in an improvement plan.
Consider if there is any more you can do to actively promote good performance. For example, do your staff members feel valued and appreciated? Do you regularly provide recognition, praise, and/or say thank you in response to good/excellent performance? Each of your staff members will likely be different, have you taken the time to get to know and find out what motivates each person in your team, in order to know how to get the best out of each individual.
Contact Real Employment Law Advice to discuss performance related concerns, particularly if the staff member is not engaging and/or there is little improvement after structured informal support.