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performance management 101 290X217Why is Performance Management important?

Whether you’re a team leader, a manager or a supervisor, you always need to insure that the targets of your team are aligned with the strategic objectives of the business, and that the team’s objectives are clearly understood. That means setting smart, robust objectives and ensuring your team carries out these objectives competently. However, what happens if a team member is underperforming? It could be they are not willing, flexible, accurate or a team player.

Many managers are promoted without learning the essential management skills that will help them to effectively function in their role. The ability to manage performance effectively is essential and training is key to ensure consistency of approach and to avoid any risks to the business.

It’s important that managers not only manage, but also lead their teams. Leadership involves having a clear, established and shared vision that the employees want to follow willingly, and the skills and guidance they need to achieve that vision. 

Circle of Concern / Circle of Influence

Steve Covey, when looking at the habits of highly effective people, referred to a great concept – the circle of concern and the circle of influence.
Managers have demands and pressures in their roles that create concern. The problems all of us face tend to fall into three areas: 

  • Direct control: problems involving with our own behaviour
  • Indirect control: problems involving other people
  • No control: problems you can do nothing about, such as the weather or previously badly handled situations


What we should always adopt is a proactive approach: whenever we think “I wish” in the workplace remember that if we are only thinking in our area of concern – I wish - then nothing will change. We can instead choose to be proactive and work on the things we can do something about and influence the outcome. For example, managing poor performance and nipping grievance situations in the bud. So whenever we think I wish turn it into I can influence this situation and then you could effect a change.

As covey said, remember that every time we think the problem is 'out there,' that very thought is the actual problem. We’re empowering what's out there to control us. 

For example, many managers who don’t or are reluctant to tackle underperformance at work step in and carry out the work themselves. As a result their workload increases and more urgent work gets pushed aside. Managers might spend half a day a week carrying out tasks others should be doing.  

When I ask managers why they do this they often say it’s because ‘It’s quicker to do it myself’. It isn’t quicker if it’s taking up 2 days per week. Also, that will go on indefinitely unless the manager changes the situation. 

Managers often say that they have tried but have given up. My response is that if you have given up you will be doing that work forever more, on top of your own workload, and nothing is ever going to change. 

Importance of a Performance Review Procedure

Companies need to have in place a robust policy to manage performance. In fact, consistent guidelines in the form of robust policies and procedures are essential in all areas of HR from discipline through to managing absence.  A robust capability procedure is essential to manage underperformance where informal attempts have failed. 

It is of paramount importance that managers tackle underperformance in a consistent manner and make robust notes of attempts to manage underperformance informally first. These notes are key when starting to progress through a more formal route. 

Note that having policies in place is not enough, they also need to be understood by all employees, followed consistently and amended in line with case law and best practice. 


The benefits of performance management

Performance management is a process that:

  • Links people and jobs to the strategy of the organisation
  • Establishes a shared understanding of what has to be achieved 
  • Ensures people are doing the right things in the most effective way, to the best of their ability

How does adopting leadership skills as well as management skills help with managing performance?

Leadership skills are those skills that enable a manager or leader to direct, guide and manage employees to achieve common goals. When managing performance it is important that managers demonstrate good leadership skills to ensure that employees work towards common goals.

If you do not have a formal appraisal system in place and would like some help designing and implementing one to meet your requirements we can help you to put together a bespoke appraisal system to suit the needs of the business.

Setting Smart Objectives

When setting objectives they should always be SMART. What does this mean?
It means they should Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound – only then will they be understood by the employee
Objectives can be around:

  • Personal Development – to improve the individual’s effectiveness. For example, to successfully complete NVQ Level 2 in administration by June 2018
  • Routine / Operational – around the work of the department. For example, to complete all departmental appraisal interviews by 31st October 2017

Always remember to include the ‘how to achieve the objective’ in the objective itself. 

For example, a problem solving objective may be:
“To increase the level of payments received within 30 days from 70% to 80% by reviewing and evaluating existing procedures and make recommendations for a new procedure to be approved by 30th September 2017.”


Review and monitor performance

Performance management is an ongoing process of planning, managing, coaching and reviewing performance.


What is required for fully effective performance

To be fully effective in their job an employee needs to have not only the knowledge to carry out the job and the skills, but also the competency. Skills are more about what you do while competencies are about how you exercise those skills. 

A competency is, therefore, an action or behaviour that an individual demonstrates in their job role. It does not just measure one’s ability to carry out a particular task. It assesses how an individual combines their knowledge, skills and motivation.

For managers this covers the following, amongst other

These are the areas most managers find difficult to tackle, so how do we go about handling competency concerns and having a difficult conversation? 

The way we communicate is key. 

Good communication skills are vital in the workplace so that people aren’t left guessing what you are trying to say – we need to be clear. Being open in our body language and engaging rather than arms crossed and defensive is also very important.  

The do’s and don’ts of effective communication

Being accusational, personal and referring to the employee’s “attitude” or character is poor feedback. This type of conversation leaves the employee demotivated and it hasn’t addressed the actual problem and the employee won’t fully understand what they are doing wrong. They have been criticised with no effective feedback.
Instead of looking at attitude it’s better to focus on the exact problem. Do you think the employee has a bad attitude because:

  • They are not willing
  • They are not a team player
  • They are very negative 
  • They are accurate
  • They aren’t flexible 

It’s the underlying reason why the manager thinks that the employee has a bad attitude that we need to tackle. So how do we go about it? 

  • Talk to the employee in private and in a timely manner
  • Agree on the facts relating to the problem
  • Start with “I”, not “you”
  • Say that you are concerned with the situation that arises from the problem in the employee’s behaviour or actions
  • Document your discussion
  • Be open to employee suggestions regarding preventing the situation from happening again
  • End on a compliment when possible

If you’re faced with an angry employee use the ‘fogging’ technique, which is very powerful at reducing the temperature in a situation. Instead of becoming defensive, say the word ‘yes’: “Yes, I can see you are upset because…”

You are not agreeing with the employee, you are acknowledging what the employee has said. Then use a linking word like “however” (never use the word “but”) and say what you expect them to do instead of what they had done. 

Where formal warnings are to be given follow the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.


Handling an informal grievance

Treating employees with dignity and respect in the workplace is paramount. If an employee has concerns, problems or raises a grievance, this should be handled in a timely manner. 

The manager should take the initiative when an employee comes to see them with a concern that forms a genuine grievance. The manager needs to take the employee aside and in a private setting have a discussion to try and get to the bottom of the problem. 

This involves asking the employee to talk through the problem or concern they have raised, to help you understand it. 

When an employee first raises a concern we need to check in that initial meeting whether the employee is raising their complaint formally or informally.  

It is not recommended to ask this at the beginning of the conversation, unless it is in your policy to do so, because it may become a barrier to you in getting to the nub of the problem as the employee may be put off by your question and may even walk away.

If it is a matter that is in the manager’s immediate control or authority, consider possible solutions, being mindful to consider the ramifications and impact on other people.

Where the matter requires the input of other people, agree the next steps with the employee.

In all cases, where appropriate, agree an action plan or time frame for responding, and make (and keep) a brief note of the conversation. 

Handling a formal grievance

Where grievances cannot be resolved informally the employee must be able to raise the matter formally and in writing with a manager who is not the subject of the grievance. A meeting should be arranged in line with your Grievance Procedure following the ACAS code of practice.   

Left unresolved, some grievances can lead to underperformance, illness and absence and demotivation in the workplace. A very important area of responsibility for managers is to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of employees in the workplace. This includes ensuring that employees are treated with dignity and respect and that any grievances are handled in a timely and professional manner having carried out a robust investigation. 


Gaining a better understanding of managing performance

It is essential for managers to be able to handle workplace matters sensitively in line with legislation and best practice. Like an iceberg, we only initially see what is visible - observable behaviour – however we need to be aware and explore those areas that are not so visible, underneath: feelings, values, interpretations to name but a few. 

How we go about handling all HR matters, especially those more tricky areas, is very important. 

Training will help you to reduce the risk of successful litigation and ensure that you have a happy, motivated and productive workforce. Many companies choose training to educate their managers or because they want to empower their managers to handle HR matters themselves, with the guidance of HR. Our two-day Essential Management Skills course gives them the confidence to do so. 

If you want to explore programmes, either to successfully lead and manage your team or to develop skills in your workforce, here are some recommended key development programmes:

Blog / Leadership and management / Employee relations / Employee engagement / Performance management