• Ron Jones

PERFORMANCE DEVELOPMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY


Our objective is to promote a high performing organisation that delivers outcomes for clients within a safe, inclusive, respectful and trusting operating framework.


Whilst every effort is taken to encourage and nurture staff to achieve their individual and professional goals, we retain a commitment to ensuring that client needs are met in the most appropriate way.


This will cause us to occasionally have difficult conversations with staff regarding their perceived commitment to this objective. Through adequate, effective and timely intervention, we seek to support our staff to be the best they can be.


From time to time this may result in us having to make difficult decisions regarding the continuation of a staff member’s employment.


We trust that the processes set out below will be a useful guide for all staff.

Client Service Framework and Delivery Model


Our ClientService Framework provides the basis for identifying expected performance standards within the context of our purpose and values.


The Framework and the Client Delivery Model set out our commitment to clients and emphasises the approach we take through all of our services and programmes and operational activities.


These are effectively operationalised through our structure and job descriptions.

Job Descriptions


The starting point for any assessment of an individual’s performance – whether positive or negative – is the job description.


No position exists just for the sake of having someone fill the role. The job description is the means by which the organisation assigns key duties and responsibilities. The sum of all job descriptions is that the organisation has the right people in the right job to achieve required outcomes.


Regular and periodic discussions with staff regarding day-to-day performance provides the organisation with information as to whether it has the right jobs in place, whether there are any capacity issues and whether the staff in those jobs are achieving desired outcomes.


There are a number of possible consequences from this process:

  • There are inadequate positions to undertake all that is necessary to support clients;

  • There are gaps in the structure which need to be addressed;

  • The duties is some job descriptions need to be updated;

  • There are jobs that are no longer required;

  • There are staff performing well above the responsibilities assigned to them;

  • There are staff performing below expectations and requirements.

It is the latter category that seems to create the most anxiety whenever performance review are undertaken.

Regular Reviews and Discussion


In the right work environment it will be normal for staff and managers to regularly discuss performance achievement, results and issues.


In many instances these discussions can reveal the difficulties of achieving certain agreed outcomes as a result of other events. For example a fall in revenue may impact on the replacement of key infrastructure essential for delivering certain services; IT problems may result in the loss of data that is required; ill health or injury may result in a staff member being away when key deadlines are due.


These are every day issues that can only be addressed if there is an open and transparent workplace culture.


Regular discussion allows an opportunity for any concerns or issues to be raised immediately and for plans to be implemented to address them.


Timely constructive feedback from managers is important in shaping outcomes: where feedback is absent, any performance discussion can lead to heightened anxiety about the outcome of such discussion.

Managing Expectations


Managing staff who exceed expectations can often be as difficult as managing staff who are not meeting expectations.


Staff who constantly work in a way where expectations are exceeded may not be operating in a manner that is conducive to their own health: they can be obsessive and are often perfectionists. Consequently this can place undue pressure on others to ‘keep up’.

It is important to acknowledge that the culture is often reflected in ‘what gets rewarded’. If staff perceive that exceeding work expectations is viewed as desirable this can create a work environment that is ultimately counter productive.

Dealing with under achievement requires careful planning. Staff may often interpret the intent of any discussion around underachievement as meaning that the organisation is intent on terminating their employment. This can often lead to anxiety and the taking of ‘stress leave’. It should be remembered that an employee would be unable to claim workers compensation for any anxiety or stress resulting from a performance review if that review is properly managed and conducted.


In this regard the following sets out a best practice approach for managing performance under achievement.

Managing Under Achievement


The following steps should be taken to address issues of performance under achievement.

Step 1 — Identify the problem

Document:

  • examples of the behaviour or action that is causing an issue

  • when it’s occurring

  • why it’s an issue

  • specify how the behaviour or action needs to change or improve.

Obtain any documents that demonstrate the problem, such as business statistics, examples of the employee’s work or customer feedback. Make copies to give to the employee.

Step 2 — Assess and analyse


If you identify a problem, consider:

  • how serious is the problem

  • how long the problem has existed

  • the gap between what’s expected and what’s being delivered.

Once you have assessed the problem, organise a meeting with your employee to discuss it. Let the employee know the reason for the meeting in advance so they can adequately prepare. If you will be going through specific documents, provide copies to the employee before the meeting.


Explain to the employee they can bring a support person of their choice to this meeting. A support person may be a co-worker, family member, friend, or union representative. Their role is to support the employee during the meeting - not to speak or advocate for them.

Step 3 — Meet with the employee


It’s important the meeting takes place in a private, comfortable, non- threatening environment, away from distractions and interruptions. The meeting should not be overheard by others.


During the meeting you should:

  • clearly describe the problem and refer to specific examples

  • explain the impact on the business, the employee’s work or co-workers

  • explain the outcomes you want to achieve from the meeting

  • give the employee an opportunity to respond and give you their view of the situation

  • listen and ask questions to understand their response to the problem and why it has occurred

  • if possible, refer to recent positive things the employee has done, to show them you also recognise and appreciate their strengths

  • use a relaxed and encouraging tone and show confidence in the employee’s ability to improve.

Take notes during any discussions about performance and follow up the discussion with an email or letter confirming what was said and agreed. Give employees a chance to suggest any changes.


Keep these notes, emails and any other documents relating to underperformance on the employee’s employment file. These may be helpful if the problem re-occurs, if there is a disagreement about what was discussed, or if the employee later makes a legal claim (for example, unfair dismissal).



Step 4 — Agree on a solution

After discussing the problem, you and your employee should work together to find a solution.


Employees are more likely to improve their performance if they feel they have contributed to this process.


When developing a solution, you should:

  • make sure the employee understands the change you require

  • explore ideas by asking open questions. For example, ask the employee ‘what can we do to improve this in future?’

  • suggest ways to fix the problem, and invite the employee to make suggestions as well

  • offer appropriate support and assistance, such as training, mentoring, or adjustments to the employee’s duties

  • reinforce the value of the role the employee performs.

Agreed actions should be recorded in a performance improvement plan. This is a document that sets out what the employee needs to do to improve their performance. It should:

  • clearly identify the performance that needs to improve or the behaviour that needs to change

  • outline how this will be done, and list any support that will be provided to help the employee

  • explain each party’s responsibilities

  • give the employee a reasonable time to improve their performance

  • set a date for a follow up meeting to review progress and discuss the employee’s performance against the agreed plan

  • in cases of serious or ongoing underperformance, specify clearly and preferably in writing the possible consequences if the employee’s performance does not improve.

Both you and the employee should keep a copy of any performance improvement plan.



Step 5 — Monitor and review

Once you have a solution in place, make sure you:

  • follow through with any training or other support you offered the employee

  • regularly check-in with the employee to discuss how they are progressing

  • continue giving feedback and encouragement

  • have a follow up meeting at the agreed time to review their progress.

It often takes more than one conversation to resolve an issue. A follow up meeting is a good chance to acknowledge the employee’s progress and focus on the improvements that are still required. Remember, give the employee a reasonable period to improve. What is reasonable will depend on the employee’s role and the duties they perform.


If you have a performance improvement plan in place, update the plan at the follow-up meeting to specify:

  • whether the current performance is satisfactory or not

  • what has improved

  • what still needs to be improved

  • what support is being provided

  • when the performance will be reviewed again.

Both you and the employee should keep a copy of any updated performance improvement plan.


Once the performance has improved to a satisfactory level, acknowledge that the issue has been resolved and discuss how the improvements will be maintained.


If an employee’s performance doesn’t improve after a reasonable period, you need to consider your options.


In some cases, it may be appropriate to continue performance management or issue a formal written warning. If the employee is still underperforming after a reasonable period, it may be appropriate to dismiss them.

Dismissing an employee for underperformance


Ending an employee’s employment is a serious step. You must have a valid reason for the dismissal relating to the employee’s capacity or conduct, and follow a fair performance management and dismissal process.


Employers cannot dismiss their employees in circumstances that are “harsh, unjust or unreasonable”. What is harsh, unjust or unreasonable will depend on the circumstances of each case. However, it is important to be fair to employees particularly when it comes to termination of employment. They should be given reasons for dismissal and an opportunity to respond to those reasons.


It is important that before dismissing an employee you can show you have:

  • told them the purpose of performance meetings in advance and allowed them to prepare

  • told them they could have a support person present

  • clearly outlined the expected level of performance and the improvement that was required

  • clearly warned them that their performance needed to improve

  • gave them time and support to improve their performance

  • told them that they may be dismissed if their performance didn’t improve.

Before dismissing an employee, provide the employee with written reasons why you are considering dismissal and give the employee a reasonable opportunity to respond to those reasons. You must take into consideration any response the employee provides before you make a decision about dismissing the employee.

A failure to follow these steps before dismissing an employee may result in a successful unfair dismissal claim against you.

Best practice checklist

A best practice workplace involves more than just understanding and complying with the law. This checklist will help you work at best practice when managing and preventing underperformance:

  • performance system - implement a performance system, it doesn’t have to be a complex one! This will give your workplace a framework for setting expectations, developing skills, giving feedback and regularly reviewing performance.

  • reward - recognise and reward employees when they’re performing well.

  • identify and promptly address - identify and assess underperformance problems when they occur. Address underperformance issues straight away.

  • process - follow any performance management process set out in your award or enterprise agreement, the employee’s contract or relevant workplace policies about performance management.

  • meeting - organise a meeting with the employee to discuss a problem when there is one. Conduct the meeting in a private, non-threatening, comfortable and quiet location.

  • prepare – prepare for any meetings. Provide relevant documents to the employee, give the employee time to prepare for the meeting and invite or allow them to bring a support person.

  • be specific - explain your specific concerns to the employee. Provide evidence and clearly outline the improvement required. Discuss the consequences of continued poor performance.

  • questions - ask questions, give the employee an opportunity to respond.

  • listen - before considering what actions you might take next.

  • solution - ensure the employee understands what’s expected of them and work together to find a solution to improve performance.

  • document - record the solution in a performance improvement plan with milestones and time frames for further review. Document all discussions, and keep records.

  • follow-up - schedule a follow-up meeting to review the employee’s performance against the agreed plan.

  • monitor and support - monitor the employee’s performance and continue to provide feedback. Provide training and support to help the employee improve. Where an employee’s performance is suffering due to the employee’s personal circumstances, discuss with the employee any external support, such as referral to professional services or counselling.

  • dismissal- if performance doesn’t improve and you are thinking about dismissing the employee, ensure the process is fair and the employee is given an opportunity to respond to the reasons you consider justify dismissal before dismissing the employee.

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