Today I seem to have a desk full of files about performance management and bullying problems.   There seems to be a no man’s land where one person’s bullying is another person’s performance management.

Ask an underperforming employee and many will say, setting targets, and giving warnings is bullying them.
 
Ask their manager and they will say they are frustrated by the lack of performance.  They will tell you an employment law requirement such as warnings makes their life difficult and imposes unnecessary procedural burdens.
 
Ask a high performing employee and they will say the setting of targets and giving of feedback is welcome and helps them improve their performance.
 
Employers have often failed to confront performance problems, or ‘square pegs in round holes’ and used transfers and ‘promotions’ to move employees out of critical performance areas. Until quite recently it was common to hear “he’s been here twenty years and he’s never been any good” as a long saga of under-performance and under management unfolded.
 
Now more than ever underperforming staff are more likely to be ‘performance managed’ out of the business. 
 
Poor practice and a few rogue players are giving performance management a bad name, so that in some organisations announcing that an individual needs to participate in a performance improvement programme is tantamount to handing them their notice!
 
The setting of impossible goals (by over stating the goals or under resourcing what is needed to achieve them) is one of the behaviors identified as bullying.
 
Not only will unrealistic goals undermine the fairness of any dismissal but they may also trigger claims of bullying. 
 
If these claims are linked to any issue of discrimination this can turn into a very expensive ‘efficiency exercise’. 
 
All you need to add to the miss is a few unfortunate remarks from a tactless manager about an individual’s home life, family life or religious practises and suddenly we have an expensive problem. 
 
Real performance management does not start at ‘poor performance’ but is there all the time.  Employment law is a very expensive bolt on when management has failed.  It tends to work better as a tool of effective management, rather than a substitute for one. 
 
One cup of coffee and a quick chat with some of these managers would have headed off trouble and given them a few moments to stop and think.   Time to be put the kettle on……………… 
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