Performance Management – we hear these words being used so frequently when speaking with clients, but it can apply to a number of different process and be used in a number of different ways, too.

The Good and The Bad

Let’s address the elephant in the room – the most common thing we typically hear from employees regarding performance management is that “it’s used to get people out”. From our perspective, that’s certainly not the case. When performance management is done well, it can be an amazing tool to address issues that an individual may not even be aware exist and to support them with getting to the expected standards and levels. We know that things don’t always work out and sometimes the outcome of performance management can result in disciplinary action, but we like to think that this is the exception and not the rule when using this process.

Performance Management isn’t always the process used when things go wrong, though. Performance Management effectively covers reviews of all types such as:

  • Informal 1:1’s
  • Job chats/Supervisions
  • Quarterly/twice-yearly reviews
  • Appraisals

The act of carrying out Performance Management should be an integral part to a Managers’ day to day role for everything within their team, not just those who they may feel are underperforming. Having review meetings such as the ones outlined above provide an opportunity to provide feedback, support, and to acknowledge achievements too which can be critical in maintaining staff motivation and retention!

Informal vs. Formal

We typically would always recommend addressing any performance issues informally first – individuals may not be aware that they are underperforming, or sometimes they are aware but aren’t sure what to do to improve the situation. This is where the informal stage can be key to addressing issues early and reducing the likelihood of formal processes needing to be used.

Where early intervention and good performance management practices haven’t achieved the required improvement, or where an occurrence of under-performance is more serious, then a formal process may commence under the Disciplinary Policy to support or develop an employee’s capability.

Before jumping straight to formal procedures, it’s important to consider whether any reasonable adjustments need to be considered – this may be the case where a protected characteristic, for example a disability, could be impacting the individuals’ performance.

Performance Improvement Plans (PIP) are the most typical form of Formal Performance Management used when concerns need to be addressed. These are designed to give the employee the opportunity to improve with clear guidance, objectives and measures and will be unique to each individual and situation.

PIP’s should have a timescale associated, and if the employee has not improved by the end of this timeframe then this may lead to action in line with the Disciplinary policy. If the individual improves, a PIP can be ended with the expectation that the levels will be sustained for a period of 6 months. If performance drops again within this time, again this may be dealt with under the Disciplinary policy. A PIP may also be extended if there have been some improvements but not to the expected levels.

When setting an employee a PIP, it’s important to consider what is reasonable – so it’s good to ensure that any objectives are SMART and that the timeframe you’re setting the plan for is a suitable length to achieve the desired outcomes.

What should I be doing?

We would always recommend carrying out elements of Performance Management consistently. Therefore, it’s good to have a structure in place for what you do as a standard process – for example, do you carry out monthly 1:1’s, quarterly check-ins and then yearly appraisals? If you have a structure like this, it will make instigating formal procedures much easier as you have had multiple opportunities to bring any issues to the individuals’ attention and provide support and training before formal procedures are required.

Once you have your structure, schedule the meetings in with your employees ahead of time – for example, have a set date each month that you carry out reviews, or set a recurring diary invite in your calendar with the individual so that you can’t forget.

Having a template for these conversations is really helpful – informal 1:1’s won’t need a template as such, but knowing what you should be covering within these conversations and being prepared is key. Review meetings really are the employees chance to explain how they are finding things and to bring any concerns to your attention, but it’s also an opportunity for you to do the same. A great way to ensure that any agreed actions are captured or just a summary of what you have discussed during an informal 1:1 is to follow-up with an email. It doesn’t take long to do, and again makes the process of formal performance management easier having an existing audit trail of issues being raised.

The structure, templates you use, and length of meetings will really depend on your organisation and team size. Design your templates so that they are suitable for use and capture the right level of detail – only capture relevant information, ask the questions that will determine what you need to know in order to support and manage an individual properly. For example, what has the employee found challenging? What do they enjoy? Have there been any issues with performance over the past (time period)? This will be unique to every business, so it’s important to consider this when reviewing your performance management process.

When should I do it?

This really depends on the structure you choose, such as the one outlined above. Choose what is most suitable to your organisation – if you manage a large number of direct reports, it may not be feasible to do the volume of reviews agreed on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. Consider workload, resource, time, and try to find a balance between meeting with employees frequently enough to address any issues without it becoming an onerous task.

The key takeaways when it comes to performance management are:

  • It’s not always a bad thing!
  • Employees need feedback to perform and improve – constructive and positive, both are helpful
  • Review your performance management process and ensure its relevant to your business and the team – are you finding out the right information to be able to manage the team?
  • Stick to the plan – don’t do the hard work of planning a process, and then not follow through. Employees will feel undervalued and demotivated if promised reviews are pushed back frequently, or don’t happen at all
  • Following the required steps will make formal procedures much easier
  • Transparency is key – an employee cannot improve on something if they haven’t been told. Make them aware of issues, support them to improve, and then review.

If you have any questions about your performance management processes, please get in touch!