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Striking the right balance for performance management

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The right balanceAlyson Pellowe wanders into the world of performance management, and discusses who is responsible for it, what it really entails and how to handle poor performers.


When I first heard the term performance management (PM) I wasn’t sure what it meant for businesses. After some research I realised it’s very 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

Who is responsible for PM?

Ultimately, responsibility for managing performance lies with your line managers, supported by senior management, HR, and other parts of the business.

“Above all, what people look for from their managers is a clear understanding of what is expected of them.”

PM 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 are more likely to perform above standard.

Above all, what people look for from their managers is a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Once the manager has explained, clarified and agreed objectives they then need to help people achieve them. Managers need to check everyone in their team has all the support they need to carry out their objectives. For example do they have the skills, confidence, time and support from other team members and other areas of the business?

Get organised

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.

I recommend creating a 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; some will become irrelevant and others will need reviewing. The spreadsheet should therefore be a live document.

“Under performers create the greatest challenges for managers. Let’s face it, above standard performance rarely causes headaches.”

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.

Handling under performers

Under performers create the greatest challenges for managers. Let’s face it, above standard performance rarely causes headaches.

I’m getting more and more requests for conflict management training. It’s often because managers find it hard to have those difficult conversations with staff.

Knowing how to handle those situations isn’t easy and executive coaching can help. Classroom training can teach theory but it is no substitute for discussing actual cases. You don’t always have to find 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. As with objective setting, problems should be worked out between managers and individuals. Managers need to get to the root of why an employee isn’t meeting objectives. Perhaps their workload is 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.

This is where the objectives spreadsheet can be useful. The manager can look at the results from the rest of the team and compare them with the person who is under performing. They can then be benchmarked against other people doing similar tasks.

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.

If management is consistent, with regular one-to-one meetings, an environment in which people feel able to speak honestly, and constructive twice yearly appraisals, there should be fewer problems.

The appraisal plays an important role in performance management but it needs to be a genuine review of performance and development; not just a box ticking exercise. If employees don’t see any changes coming out of the discussion, they will begin to see them as a waste of time.

Top tips for great performance management

  • If someone is under-performing take the time to find out why. Ask what is stopping them from performing to standard.

  • Remember objective setting is a joint process. Involve people and they are more likely to perform above standard.
  • Keep orderly paperwork such as a simple document detailing objectives.

  • Have regular one-to-ones with staff. Don’t wait until the appraisal to tackle issues: deal with them when they happen.

  • Create a culture of continual development and an environment in which people feel comfortable and able to exchange views.

  • 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.

    2 Responses

    1. Here are my top tips!
      1. Create some performance measures together with the individual, i.e. targets or objectives that they need to work to over a specific period
      2. Ensure that these targets are set for the whole team: don’t single out one person.
      3. Ensure that you record all conversations ( do you mean actually record ie onto tape or just make notes?) and note down exactly what is to be achieved and by when. An appraisal could be a vehicle for this.
      4. Make sure you follow up on these conversations. This is one of the main issues I have with organisations – they give someone a target and then forget to get back to them for 12 months to check it has been achieved. By that time it is too late as the organisation has moved on.
      5. If the targets have not been met by the agreed time meet with the individual again and firmly explain this is unacceptable. You could, at this time, send out either a ‘letter of concern’ or create a ‘performance improvement plan’.
      6. If number five doesn’t get them into gear then I think it is time to consider the disciplinary procedure. And we all know what that means!

    2. Performance Management
      Not so much a question but a request…..The heading of this article indicated assistance in ‘how to handle poor performers’. While there were some suggestions on identifying poor performers, nothing on what happens when the coaching and the talking etc still do not work. Maybe Alyson could add those thoughts in a further article on this very important aspect of managing poor performers. I would be most appreciative of any suggestions. Cheers.

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