Tackling performance management – top 10 tips

16 December 2016

1. Don’t be afraid to tackle issues early

Regular appraisals in place for all your staff are a great platform to nip any performance issues in the bud. Don’t be afraid to address any issues early as constructive criticism will help employees much more than unjustified praise. You shouldn’t postpone addressing performance concerns until the appraisal time though; an informal chat highlighting any performance issues should happen promptly to be clearly associated with underperformance. As a fair performance management process can take months, it is better to address issues early.

2. Distinguish between conduct and capability

In simple terms, when the employee “can’t” do the job this will be a capability concern and when they “won’t” do the job properly it is more likely to be conduct related. Sometimes the distinction can be fairly tricky to make and some cases might in fact be both – misconduct and incompetence - and if different processes exist for dealing with these, the choice should be carefully considered.

3. Set realistic targets and allow sufficient time to see improvement

Setting clear expectations when it comes to performance is important from day one. Where performance drops the employee should be reminded of the expectations and set targets to work towards. The clearer the targets are, the easier it will be to monitor their achievement. A sensible timescale to allow improvement is also critical.

4. Investigate underlying reasons

There might be underlying health issues impacting the performance and these should be given proper consideration; occupational health assessment could be used to get a clear understanding of what might be done to help the employee and what the prognosis is.

5. Be supportive

Providing support for an underperforming employee can take different forms – assigning a mentor, attending training or seeking external support. If things don’t improve and you end up having to dismiss the employee, the Tribunal will expect to see that help has been provided or at least offered. The whole process should be supportive and seen as helping your employees understand the expectations and how they can meet them, rather than criticise and judge.

6. Follow procedures

Before any sanction is given a meeting should always be held to allow the employee to explain any reasons for their poor performance. Ask them what they think of their performance and work from there – self-assessment is normally surprisingly accurate. Keep detailed notes of the process followed and the conversations had with the employee.

7. Give warnings

If the support and time allocated to achieve clearly specified targets don’t result in performance improvement then formal warning should be given. Unless the underperformance is particularly severe and adversely impacts the business then normally the warnings should start at the lowest warning. Further support and time should be given to allow improvement before the process is taken to the next level and a more severe warning is issued.

8. Praise the worker, criticise the work

Avoid turning the process into a personal attack by criticising the employee. Performance discussions with a supportive tone are in fact a good opportunity to continue building on the relationship between employee and their manager.

9. Recognise good performance

Don’t simply focus on highlighting the performance concerns – when you see examples of great work, shout about it, let people know and celebrate their success.

10. It takes time…

Don’t be tempted to try and get an employee out of the door when you notice performance concerns. Correct performance management process takes time and it might actually surprise you how the employee turns around their performance and flourishes in their role with appropriate support and given enough time.