Performance Management & Performance Reviews: Getting Managers to Manage

I recently asked a client HR Manager if his line managers were performance managing the employees we were discussing. It seemed as if the inmates were running the asylum so to speak. His response was "no, we don’t do performance reviews." Unfortunately, this type of response is not uncommon—but it indicates that the HR person doesn’t get it. Employers sometimes don’t understand that they do not have to do formal performance reviews to still engage in one of the most important and simple actions a company can do to protect itself against employee lawsuits—performance management.

In other words, if an employee is performing badly, arriving late, misbehaving, mouthing off, being insubordinate, shirking their responsibilities, missing deadlines, failing to proof their work, Facebooking at work, being disrespectful of co-workers, or any one of a long list of bad behaviors I’m sure you have seen in the workplace . . . Let the employee know that the behavior, performance, attitude, etc. is unacceptable. And document that you did.

In my experience, employee lawsuits arise most often from employment terminations when the employee is completely blind-sided by the discharge. They didn’t expect to get fired. Sometimes, the employee thought he or she had gotten called in to see the boss because they were getting a raise. They thought everything was fine. Then in what seems to them as out of the blue, their employment is terminated because they weren’t performing satisfactorily. Of course they are angry. Of course they are resentful. Wouldn’t you be?

That’s where "performance management" comes in. It is getting your managers to manage their people. In the long run, letting your employees know how they are doing, as they are doing it, increases productivity and moral. Other employees know who the shirkers are, and you can be sure that they are resentful when management ignores bad behavior and they have to pick up the slack.

How do you get your managers to performance manage? By performance managing the managers. The rules are the same:

  • Make sure the expectations are clear and the employee understands what type of behavior, performance, attitude etc. is expected.
  • When the expected performance is not delivered, take some action to coach/counsel/otherwise correct the employee. Don’t let it go unmentioned. Again ensure expectations are clear. Set deadlines if necessary. Document the efforts taken.
  • If the employee continues to fail to deliver, move from coaching to disciplining, at whatever gradient seems appropriate.
  • Increase the discipline until the desired performance is reached. Document each action taken, each conversation had.
  • If the employee still will not perform as expected, consider termination.
  • Before termination ensure that you have documentation showing that:

- The employee knew what was expected

- The employee failed to deliver

- The employee was put on notice of the poor performance
and given an opportunity to improve

- Improvement was not forth coming.

  • If you are not planning on terminating an employee for failing to perform an expected task, or comport to other on-the-job expectations, consider whether that task or expectation is really worth requiring in the first place.

Annual performance reviews often discuss behaviors that happened so distant in time as to put the employee on the defensive. They may not even remember the error or offense. Employees should never hear something in an annual or semi-annual review that they’ve not already heard before.

Date-coincident conversations can go a long way to improving your employee’s performance, avoiding termination-based litigation, and providing defenses should the terminated employee sue. But, performance management can be done without annual reviews ever happening. It is far worse for the company to (a) never performance manage close in time to an infraction, (b) give the employee numerous annual reviews that say the employee is "satisfactory," and then (c) try to terminate for "poor performance." That’s one lawsuit that is very difficult to defend.

Apply performance management to increase productivity and provide legal protections your company may need. And don’t forget to mention and document the good things too, and the jobs well done.

Author’s Note: These columns are not intended to be legal advice. Employers should contact employment lawyers familiar with the law of your jurisdiction regarding specific employee situations.