How HR isn’t helping to manage underperformance!

Managers sometimes have difficult conversations, repeat themselves with their people, make too many allowances and sometimes end up doing the job for them. When it becomes completely unsustainable t they then go to HR and say - 'What do we need to do to get this person out!'. Depending on length of service and other factors, a performance improvement plan may be advised and the individual may improve - or be subject to formal warnings.

But what about the in-between bit - the bit where it isn't so bad just yet - what mechanisms do we have to manage/improve performance? Well, that would be the awful 'Performance Appraisal' with all its bureaucracy, admin, ratings, narrative, formal comments, competency review etc. But, because that is mandated as 6 or 12-monthly I as Manager just wait until the HR calendar says so to address issues and sometimes not even then. And that's because the performance appraisal is often about completing lots of paperwork or clicking on many screens and then writing apparently SMART objectives that mostly aren't (and often that have to cover 12 months!!) and are full of subjective buzzwords and management-speak. All of which don't really get to the heart of the performance concerns a manager has or in a timely way.

But then HR tells managers that they should agree objectives whenever they feel appropriate - but managers' won't! They do the Company-wide appraisal process, following the ‘HR will prompt us’ calendar - because that's what all their colleague Managers are doing as well. Sound familiar?

Managing performance flexibly and 'on the go' is doing the following before it gets so bad that the only answer is formal action:

  • Having difficult conversations early on that factually describe the issue without subjective opinions or using buzzwords
  • Agreeing objectives that are tangibly result-focused and numbers based (not just containing pieces of advice or activities) - and these should target increasing the positive or reducing the negative. They should also target behaviour change: eg reducing the need to be chased/prompted, reducing the questions asked they could research for themselves, reducing errors by perhaps initiating fewer social conversations across the desk so there is more time to focus!
  • Emailing these objectives over to the person with any next steps/support and then revisiting them in future 121s so everything is 'front-of-mind' rather than filling in appraisal-style paperwork/templates that get filed away and forgotten

I personally review about 30 performance appraisal mechanisms a year across organisations -they are all mostly cut and paste from each other and are the 'best practice' that everyone has used for decades. HR ticks the box by drawing them up, rolling them out and saying that they are helping manage underperformance. But it is these same systems that actively work against Managers managing performance concerns on an if needed, when needed basis.

Managing Performance Flexibly is part of the Painless People Management Programme