Performance Management isn't just for disciplining staff

Michael Cosgrove of Rivercity Consulting explains why Performance Management is more than just a euphemism for telling people off, and how to make it a powerful way to improve employee performance.

All too often, both employers and employees, think that Performance Management is a disciplinary tool by which to rule over all. Well it isn’t. Yes in some instances Performance Management can, and must, be used to correct inappropriate behavior, or under-performance, but generally it should be seen and used as a way to energize employees, improve productivity, and improve the culture of the workplace.

Now exactly what is Performance Management? Simply put it is an ongoing communication process, undertaken in partnership between the employee and his or her immediate supervisor that involves establishing clear expectations and understanding about the essential functions the employee is expected to perform, how their job contributes to the overall objectives of the business, and how they will work together to sustain, improve, and build on existing strengths.

Wasn’t quite simple afterall was it.

Now although some performance management systems can become quite involved and time consuming, the following are some basic steps that SME’s can implement to effectively manage the performance of their staff.

  1. First off don’t make the mistake of thinking that appraising or evaluating performance is the same thing as managing. It’s not. It is but only the first step in the overall performance management system.
  2. Schedule regular meetings with staff, both individually and as a group, to go over the business targets or expectations of the staff in terms of their performance. Now most small businesses are time poor, but it doesn’t have to be every day. It can be weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Perhaps if you are time poor then schedule the meeting before or after their shifts and entice them with a coffee and a muffin.
  3. Set realistic and attainable targets. All businesses want their employees to go, and achieve, above and beyond, but setting unrealistic targets will only serve to slow productivity due to stress and frustration.
  4. When speaking to the staff, be positive. Reinforce their good work, but highlight the areas where they can possibly improve, or where you expect them to improve
    Note: Communication at this stage is critical. Don’t use the opportunity to heap praise on one employee, whilst berating another for perceived lack of performance. Be neutral, but concise.
  1. Be cautious if you intend to link improved performance to a reward. It is my experience that a majority of staff then focus on the reward rather than the quality of the product or service. But in some instances it can be a motivator. Exercise caution.

Now the bad news. What to do if you need to use Performance Management for discipline?

At some stage you will have no other option but to use a Performance Management system to discipline a staff member. Now this may range from excessive sick leave, to inappropriate workplace behavior, and even diminished performance.

Unfortunately no two situations in this regard will ever be the same. It is essential that you approach discipline through Performance Management, with a degree of caution, but with robust resolve. Don’t be afraid to manage a situation, or manage an employee, afterall….You are the boss.

Although each situation will be different, there are a few basic principles that you need to ensure you adhere to:

  •  Advise the employee in writing of the meeting, exactly what will be discussed, who will be present, and that they are entitled to have a support person present at the meeting.
  • When advising the employee of what is to be discussed, ensure that you give the employee adequate time to respond to any issues or allegations.
  • Never make your decision before taking into account the employee’s response. Keep an open mind. There may be extenuating circumstances and outside influences that could be causing the issue.
  • Only use a level of discipline that is in line with the severity of the issue. To “over discipline” will cause the situation to get worse, and the knock effects to other employees will be inevitable.
  • Never procrastinate. Address disciplinary issues early.
  • Document everything in writing. You don’t need to write war and peace, but be concise. Short, sharp and too the point isn’t always a good thing.

At the end of the day, there is no “one size fits all” Performance Management system. If you remember the points above, and remember that performance management is an on-going communication process, then you should be able to dance the performance management dance without appearing to have two left feet.

Set your business goals, Set your personal business goals, Set goals for your employees, and then go forth and manage.

Michael Cosgrove is the director of Rivercity Consulting.

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