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HR to Go podcast episode 2: Steps to manage performance (transcript)

Click below to listen to this podcast, or keep scrolling to read the transcript.

Welcome to HR to Go. In this episode, we chat to Effective Workplace Solutions Managing Director Karen Arnold about performance management.

Mandy: Karen, in your words, how would you explain performance management?

Karen: Performance management is a tool that is designed to maximise individual performance and by extension, organisational performance.

Mandy: Why is performance management such a critical system for businesses to embrace?

Whilst it may be a really challenging experience for everyone involved, addressing performance and behavioural issues as they arise will improve performance and behaviour in the workplace. 

It is critical to ensure performance deficiencies are addressed as soon as possible and I would encourage managers to not wait until the problem escalates beyond repair.

The poor performance of as little as one employee can have a widespread damaging effect across your entire business. When underperformance isn’t addressed it can result in a loss of motivation, productivity and a decrease in customer satisfaction. Other employees may become disengaged and resentful, which could result in an increase in employee absences and higher staff turnover.

Mandy: Right, well it is clear that performance management is an important element for businesses. What impacts do you see as positive outcomes for businesses that embrace performance management?

Karen: That is a great question, because when we see performance management used as a tool to achieve outcomes, we see:
• A boost to employee engagement and productivity
• Improves employee retention. Engaged employees stay longer, actively involve themselves in the workplace and produce better results.
• It helps to build a better workplace culture.
• And ensures staff follow correct processes and procedures which is critical for a number of reasons, not the least being ensuring safety in the workplace, and positive outcomes for customers.

Mandy: So, this is the perfect opportunity to point out that … the behaviour we accept becomes the norm…

Karen: And so in building on this, we can see that performance management has two purposes.
Which are:
1. Improve the team member’s performance; or
2. Move them to an exit point from the business (through the provision of warnings and improvement plans)

Mandy: Of course, hopefully the priority is to try to improve an employee’s performance by providing feedback, instruction, training and coaching.

Karen: If this isn’t possible, the documentation you will have from performance managing an employee will put you in good stead to defend a decision to terminate.

Mandy: Ok, so at this point, if I have identified I have an issue in the workplace with an employee’s performance, what is the next step.

Karen: The question then is which way you will approach this. Do you adopt an informal performance management approach or a formal performance management approach?
Informal Performance Management is great for:
• on the job feedback;
• immediate correction of poor work practices;
• advice; and
• praise and recognition;

And Formal Performance Management is utilised for:
• Correction of poor work practices, attitude, conduct or issues that are generally of more serious issues or repeat issues;
• may arise after informal performance issues;
• always seek a response from the employee;
• provide any written warning to the employee in a timely manner;

Regardless of the approach, it is important to always deal with the issue in private, ensure you approach the issue in a calm and reasonable manner, and document the discussions.

Mandy: In terms of the approach to providing feedback, how would you do it?

Karen: The quality of the feedback you provide is going to impact the outcomes you receive.
Providing effective feedback could include things like:

• Consider the timing

At a bare minimum, deliver the feedback in private.

Another consideration is ‘when’ to provide the feedback. If an issue has just arisen, consideration should be given as to whether they are in the best mindset to receive your feedback and if you are in an open mindset to give it. Strong emotions can cloud a person’s ability to accept feedback. Consider waiting for a more neutral time to provide feedback.

• Be prepared

This is not a conversation you want to have in the spur of the moment. You want to think of what you’re going to say, as well as anticipate how the other person might react. Think of the questions they might ask and have answers prepared. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to stay even tempered and not get flustered, and therefore deliver a more solid critique.

Mandy: And I find, for me, that specific feedback is helpful.

Karen: Yes, be specific. Be honest and thorough with your feedback, and fully clarify why you’re having the conversation. Offer as many concrete examples as possible so the person understands you’re not just pulling things out of thin air. The more clarity you can provide, the better the critique will be received.

• Make feedback actionable (and future-focused when possible)

Give employee feedback on behaviors that the employee can understand and action.

Avoid personal feedback such as “You are lazy”, as this is unconstructive and likely to result in the employee shutting down and disengaging.

Rather, focus on feedback that allows the employee to tap into what they can do to improve.

• Document everything.

Document the discussions so you have a record on file.

Also, you may want to consider providing the employee with documentation that confirms the discussion and the agreed outcomes.

Documentation makes it real for the employee. It’s easy to brush off a verbal discussion or scolding, but when employees know something is “going in the file” they are likely to take it much more seriously.

Mandy: Karen, going back to what you mentioned about providing feedback, would you say it’s also really important to provide feedback that reinforces positive behaviour? So, like, if someone does something really good, jumping onto that opportunity to acknowledge they’re getting positive feedback sometimes as well.

Karen: Absolutely. I think we often look at performance management from a more negative perspective and we focus on providing feedback when employees are getting it wrong, but obviously everyone in the workplace likes to receive positive feedback and I think any opportunity to reinforce positive feedback is going to be really valuable for your employee and your workplace. Even taking the opportunity to have an open discussion about your employee’s performance with a focus on what they’re doing right and then moving into perhaps the constructive feedback about the areas where they are getting it wrong.

Mandy: So, once you have moved through the performance management process with your employee, what happens next?

Karen: The next step would be to focus on follow up.

Employee accountability is the key to making your performance management successful.

Therefore, following up with employees and ensuring that the employee is performing, or heeding the feedback provided is critical. Without consequences there is little incentive to improve and it’s easy to slip back into old patterns of behaviour.

Mandy: It seems one of the common themes is documenting the process; can you elaborate on why this is so important?

Karen: Absolutely. Performance management is often the catalyst and the scaffolding for any decisions that are made in respect to termination for performance reasons.

There needs to be a “paper trail” prior to considering the termination of employment so that if you are making a decision to terminate employment you have the documentation to support your decision.
Documentation provides evidence that action has been taken and a process was followed and can be used to substantiate that the employee’s performance was discussed with the employee, and changes to behaviour or performance was required.

This documentation will also offer a history of the employee’s improvement or failure to improve performance over time and can be relied upon to support a decision to discipline or termination an employee.

Mandy: One concern that I have heard raised in relation to Performance Management is that it might be considered bullying and harassment, and there is a fear that employers or managers might have a complaint levelled at them.

Karen: Yes, I can see how this would be concerning and may create hesitancy around following through with performance management processes.

Employers are entitled to expect high standards of performance from employees and can take reasonable management action to address underperformance.

Employees, on occasion might perceive this as ‘bullying’. However, it is my view that taking reasonable actions in a reasonable manner would not be considered to constitute bullying and/or harassment.

Mandy: From my experience, consistency in management style helps to avoid bullying and harassment claims.

Karen: Definitely, be consistent – you need to ensure that all employees are treated in the same manner and measured against the same set of expectations.

A lack of consistency could be used to support a claim of bullying and harassment therefore ensuring that there is a clear process in place and policies are followed is critical.

Do not terminate or discipline one employee and leave another employee not dealt with for the same offence.

It’s also necessary to consider broader implications for the organisation (public image of staff not be treated with the same consistency).

Mandy: That is great advice! We’re about to wrap up, but before we do, are there any final tips or ‘takeaways’ that you would like to share with us?

Karen: Sure.
• My first takeaway for listeners is—Performance management should be viewed as a tool to help people to perform to the best of their abilities in the workplace.
• Performance management that focuses on accountability and transparency will provide employees with a clear understanding of expectations.
• Consistency should be central to any performance management process.
• And finally… document every step of the process.

Mandy: Thank you for listening to another episode of HR to Go.

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