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Alyson Pellowe

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Managing performance in a recession


Alyson Pellowe explains how HR professionals can ensure the performance of those employees left behind after a redundancy is managed effectively, and what measures can be put in place to help staff perform well.

So what is performance management? It is actually quite straightforward. It’s about using a range of methods to manage individuals’ work in a way that is linked to the business needs.
This includes methods like:
  • Setting objectives aligned to your business plan
  • Devising a set of competencies and developing teams to achieve them  
  • Good old appraisals
This sounds easy enough, and many organisations have been through the process in the last few years of uncovering poor performance and managing it rather than making the dreaded redundancies. In other organisations, they have made the redundancies and they find their workforce less enamoured with the day job and needing a bit of a push.
It is a tough time at the moment, and all employees in all businesses, regardless of their size or sector, are struggling to maintain motivation when they are unsure as to whether they will be the next to go.

How can HR ensure the performance of ‘redundancy survivors’ is managed effectively?

During a challenging time we see a very different style of leadership in the workplace. Some poor leaders will bury their heads in the sand and hope their problems will go away, whilst others will face it and manage the issues head on.
HR is integral to supporting the leadership team: it can ‘add value’ by stepping back and insist that the remaining people in the business are not only managed in a sympathetic manner, listened to and empathised with, but kept on track in relation to any objectives set.
With a major change comes new job descriptions and areas of responsibility, so HR can help document some of this and assist the line managers to create new clear expectations for the employees which are aligned to the revised business plan. Ultimately, the day-to-day responsibility for managing performance lies with your line managers, supported by senior management, HR, and other parts of the business.
Performance management is a joint process between manager and employee. It involves giving people parameters within which they must achieve agreed objectives to agreed standards. Like every other aspect of people management, involve people and they will be more likely to perform above standard.

What measures can be put in place to help staff achieve goals?

Once objectives have been explained, clarified and agreed, managers need to check that people understand them and have everything they need to achieve them.
A manager’s own performance is crucial. Being organised is important, so tasks or projects should be documented. Managers must have a clear plan of what needs to happen and by when. They need to make it clear who is responsible for what and have a method of measuring and monitoring.
Create a simple spreadsheet that lists the team’s objectives and those of each individual. That way the objectives can be seen at a glance. Of course, objectives change as the business changes so it should be a live document.
Monitoring should be constant: a twice-yearly appraisal simply isn’t enough. Good performance managers have one-to-ones with staff at least once a month, perhaps even more, either by phone or face-to-face. For some larger organisations, the answer may be to implement an online performance management software system which can aid the manager to administer the process.

Poor performers

It would also look at what to do with under-performers, who can be especially costly in this current climate. Under-performers create the greatest challenges for managers. Let’s face it, above standard performance rarely causes headaches.
I’m also getting more and more requests for conflict management training. It’s often because managers find it hard to have those difficult conversations with staff. Executive coaching can help because it allows people to discuss actual cases and how they affect them.  And you don’t always have to bring in an external coach. Talking to other managers, who are getting good performance results from their people, can be just as helpful.
Issues need to be resolved as they happen. Managers need to get to the root of why an employee isn’t meeting objectives. Perhaps their workload too heavy or they may not have enough time to do their job. Or they could have problems at home. A manager has to decide on the course of action and management style that is right for each situation.  
HR can facilitate discussion between managers and employees but ultimately the manager needs to take the lead and manage the individual up or out of the business.

Six tips for great performance management:

  1. If someone is under-performing take the time to find out why. Ask what is stopping them from performing to standard
  2. Remember objective setting is a joint process. Involve people and they are more likely to perform above standard
  3. Keep orderly paperwork such as a simple document detailing objectives
  4. Have regular one-to-ones with staff. Don’t wait until the appraisal to tackle issues: deal with them when they happen
  5. Create a culture of continual development and an environment in which people feel comfortable and able to exchange views
  6. If you are struggling with an under-performer, get yourself some coaching. This could be an external coach or another manager/ buddy who seems confident and successful with performance management
Alyson Pellowe is founder and managing director of People Vision Ltd, a leading provider of cross-industry human resources management and development expertise

One Response

  1. Performance Management * 3 Steps
    Important topic. I just wrote on this on my HRZone blog, in the form of a review of Steve Kerr’s new book, “Reward Systems: Does Yours Measure Up?”

    Steve offers a simple 3 step process: “definition-measurement-reward” based on the principle that “effective reward systems induce organization members to pursue organizational goals for that most reliable of reasons: each person’s conviction that he or she will benefit by doing so.”

    And yes, it is critical to align performance with your organizational goals. Aligning rewards strategy with desired operational performance goals (as defined by your values, mission and strategies) will ensure you achieve your goals. Different types of rewards include compensation and incentives, prestige awards (special, infrequent awards such as a President’s Club that are limited to a few), and content awards such as recognition, feedback, and management attention.

    More on this (and the book) here:


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