Real Performance Management how do you perform?

In a recent interview with Personnel Today the Pensions Minister Steve Webb told employers that Age should not be an excuse for “inevitable or excusable” under performance.

You can read the full interview and make your own mind up on this issue.  I am more interested in performance by all which means able bodied, disabled and everyone else in the workforce. More specifically how that performance is managed and how those “hard” conversations are approached and carried out by managers.

It seems that no matter how much training is given a significant majority of managers do not like having those “hard” conversations.  This is bourne out by many studies and reports from the Chartered Management Institute the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the Institute of Leadership and Management.

Instinctively many people do not like conflict and will avoid it like the plague and this includes managers. Many other issues also come into play here including lack of knowledge or skill, fear of getting it wrong, familiarity and favoritism to name a few.

Is it the fault of HR or the learning and development section in an organisation; was the wrong training procured or the delivery poor? In most cases it was the right training delivered well but here’s the rub. It’s OK going through role play based scenarios in a training room but it is totally different carrying out a performance review in practice. Especially if that review has lots of negatives in it.

The first question is why are there so many negatives if performance is supposedly managed well and regular 1-2-1’s are carried out along with timely return to work interviews? Surely everything’s been discussed along the way and relevant training and development opportunities put into place or help and support?

There are more management books on the subject than ever and an expanding number of management training organisations. Yet survey after survey shows a lack of confidence by employees in managers. Part of a manager’s job is to have “hard” conversations but many struggle with them for various reasons. Some reasons I have mentioned previously but the real skills needed to carry out those conversations need spelling out. They are listening and hearing what the person is telling you, empathizing and understanding their situation and supporting them in whatever way you can.  This shows you care about them as a person and not just as someone you have to move through the corporate process.

Of course at some point that “hard” conversation may mean you have exhausted every option and the options that remain may mean a reduction in salary as the person needs to reduce their hours it may mean termination of their employment because even with extensive training and support they cannot perform to the required level.  It is at this point that guilt kicks in for managers and indeed some employees will blame you personally.  Because they are now going to lose their house or cannot pay for a child’s wedding or support them though university.

Those circumstances are tragic and if you fail to be moved by them then in my personal opinion you should not be managing people. But you have a responsibility to the rest of the team, the organization, customers and shareholders in the private sector or taxpayers in the public sector. Performance management needs to be effective no matter what the person’s physical or mental ability or their age.  It should be relevant and individualistic to them.

So what do you do?


2 thoughts on “Real Performance Management how do you perform?

  1. I think that “Hard” conversations are avoided by managers because the power of Unions and regulation has gone too far…….

    Im all for treating employee’s fair and doing things in a moral and constructive manner, however the powers that Unions have, and the emergence of “No Win No Fee” legal claim means managers become accountable for even the most straight forward of decisions and have to defend these in court. Employee’s know that even when they are in the wrong, kicking up a fuss is often in there interest, as the amount of red tape and evidence a company needs to defend its postion (no matter how right it is) makes doing so cost prohibited………….. Making a stance against wrong behaviours comes at a very big price for large business.

    As an example I recently heard the tribunal of an employee who was claiming discrimination on the basis that he wasn’t allowed to work overtime. The manager had asked him not to come in early because the work load wasn’t there and hence overtime wasn’t required. The employee decided to come in early anyway. When confronted by his manage he said the workload was there so he came in. The manager told him to finish his shift 2 hours early to compensate for the additional hours he had worked and that no overtime would be paid nor would he be punished in any way. Straight forward case that the employee was in the wrong and the manager treated it fairly (maybe too fair!!!!) in ensuring the employee didn’t lose out despite blatant disrespect of a justified request ???
    The employee wasn’t happy so claim he was being discriminated against because another (female) had worked overtime before shifts on other days (weeks earlier). The fact he claim discrimination triggered an investigation meaning myself, HR, Union and him had to attend 2 x 1 hour meeting, plus meetings to investigate witnesses, a total of over 15 working hours lost at a cost of over £500.

    The fact that I upheld the managers actions triggered a 2nd appeal, which will incur the same lost time and cost, meaning for 1 employee, with a completely unjustified case, will have lost over £1000 in work time verse paying him circa £40 for 2 hours overtime…… An expensive price to pay to with hold a principle.

    The extremely sad point is this isn’t isolated, employee’s know that key words (discrimination) will trigger full blown investigations, and some people like to cause disruption knowing that unions and regulation will always protect them. The fact is that unfair treatment that once was common practice is ever decreasing (based on race, gender, sexuality etc) and while protection for these people is still correct and needed, unions / employment lawyers find them selves with less and less to do, and rather than accepting that society and the work place is changing for the better and they are slowly achieving their goals, they create more and more reason to “protect” people.

    I realise the article is based around performance, and I have gone off on a bit of a tangent, but I belief the same is true for both and in my opinion until the balance of regulation / and union protection is better addressed manager will often take an “easy” / “cheap” option rather than a “hard” / “expensive” one, no matter how correct it may be.

    • Tom first let me thank you for taking the time to reply and say that I agree to an extent with your initial statement and it does tie in with your final statement that managers will take the easy / cheap option.

      I have seen this happen time after time and you have to have some sympathy with managers who are under high levels of pressure with time and financial constraints; less staff to do the job with and higher levels of service expected by customers. It’s a fact of life that we humans often take the easier option.

      There do seem to be on occasion perverse decisions which cost organisations time and money when it looked like a straight forward case and these have been applied at employment tribunals. I don’t believe here in the UK at least that union or employee power is out of balance. Most of my working life has been spent working with the public sector which is highly unionised and there are big problems and issues to resolve. The culture has shifted significantly since the 70’s when I was an apprentice and we went on strike at the drop of a hat.

      I would ask what the culture of your organisation is: do employees feel valued and do they have a say and a stake in service delivery? Are they proud to work for the organisation and do they feel a loyalty to it? If these things are in place and working then you are less likely to have vexatious claims taking up time and costing money.

      The creation of good policies and procedures which are bought into by unions and employees will also reduce conflict. I agree that no matter how equitable and fair your policies and procedures are and how transparently they are implemented there will always be those who will try to take advantage.

      Do your Job Descriptions have behavioural competencies attached to them? With these and regular supervision or 1-2-1 meetings you can challenge the behaviour and manage it under performance management capability. You can agree an action plan and give support to help the person modify their behaviour to an acceptable standard.
      Occasionally this does not work and you have no choice but to manage the individual out of the organisation. But you will have the information to show you had supported them to reach the standard and they didn’t have the capacity or capability to do so.

      If you have followed your procedures and offered support and training you should have no trouble should the individual decide to go to an employment tribunal.

      All of this takes time and money which is why many fudge it and say lets just pay the guy the £40 and in the short term it can seem to be the best option. However if the person is a “problem” employee who has a “toxic” effect on the workplace and other employees they will cost you tens of thousands of pounds in the coming years. They will challenge authority more, their demands will get bigger and they will demotivate your positive and productive employees. They will sabotage management’s attempts to work constructively with unions and cause management and HR to spend countless hours in meetings whose outcomes are negative for all.

      Of course the toxic employee will not see this and it is for these reasons that managers should not take the easy way out, because it does not make life easy in the long term. I know I have been guilty of this in the dim and distant past and I bet a majority of managers have as well. I wonder what those managers would do now in hind sight. I would have done what should have been done but that’s easy with hindsight. In reality it is a measure of risk if it’s a one off and you can put something in place to make sure it does not happen again then yes do it. But when weighting up the risk make sure you take account of the on-going toxic risk often it outweigh the current time and cost of doing it right.

      It would be interesting to hear other manager’s comments on this issue as my original comment was their are more training courses for managers than ever and increasing numbers with management qualifications. Tom’s point raises the question is it the culture we are in that stops managers making effective decisions rather than bad practise and lack of knowledge

      Tom I hope this case goes well and the best I can say is learn from it what you can and change policies and procedures if need be and it won’t seem as though it was a whole waste of time and money. If you would like to discuss behavioural competencies send me an email or give me a call you can find all my information on the contact page.

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