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Is there really anything to fear with performance management?

Published 07 July 2020

The mere mention of a performance management meeting can fill any employee with dread.

Rightly or wrongly it has long been associated with failure, underperformance and a certain pathway to dismissal.

But, used correctly and fairly performance management can actually support and encourage an employee to do a job to the best of their ability.

Performance management is used by an employer to maintain, and improve the performance of its workforce so that the organisation achieves its goals (1)

Most performance management arrangements involve:

  • Employees being set performance measurements
  • Meetings between a manager and each member of staff to discuss their performance
  • Assessing employees against their performance measures
  • A record of performance being kept

If an employee is continually underperforming despite every effort being made to support and help them improve, then performance management is a process that can inevitably lead to dismissal.

In accordance with employment law ‘capability’ can potentially be a fair reason to dismiss an employee (2).

Before reaching that stage an employer must conduct a fair process and be able to demonstrate that a lack of capability is the real reason for dismissal. A single act of poor performance will very rarely constitute a fair reason for dismissal.

As with any type of dismissal, if an employee feels they have been treated unfairly and have two years’ service or more they can make a claim for unfair dismissal (3).

To ensure that the process is fair employers are advised to use objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable (or agreed), realistic (or relevant) and time bound. They are more commonly known as SMART objectives (4):

Specific - objectives should be specific. They should be outlined in a clear statement of precisely what is required, describing the result that is desired in a way that is, detailed, focused and well defined.

Measurable - measurement is hugely important because it will enable an employer to know whether an objective has been achieved.

Achievable (or agreed) - an objective can be said to be achievable if the necessary resources are available or similar results have been achieved by others in similar circumstances. Objectives should be agreed by managers and employees to ensure commitment to them.

Realistic (or relevant) - the concepts of 'realistic' and 'achievable' are similar and this may explain why some use the term 'relevant' as an alternative. Focus on outcomes rather than the means of achieving them.

Time-bound - it is necessary to set a date or time by which the objective should have been accomplished or completed and this contributes to making objectives measurable.

If applied fairly performance management can benefit both employers and an employee in a number of ways that include:

  • Regular reviews, whether formal or informal, can help an employer gain a better understanding of an employee’s skill and assess any areas of improvement needed or support required.
  • Positive feedback can help to boost an employee’s morale, which in turn can make them more productive.
  • It can help to highlight outstanding performers and future managers.
  • When employees are clearly aware of an employer’s objectives and their contribution to those; they are relatively free to make their own choices about how they go about their responsibilities. As a result, employees are happier, more committed, more productive and more loyal than those whose every action is dictated

If an employee has a disability an employer will have to consider making reasonable adjustments to the performance management process, which can include allowing that employee extra time to complete tasks (5). A failure to make reasonable adjustments could result in a disability discrimination claim.

Any performance management procedure should always be fair and reasonable.


Performance management [Internet] [Cited 07/07/2020]

‘Capability’ can potentially be a fair reason to dismiss [Internet] [Cited 07/07/2020]

Two year service can make a claim for unfair dismissal [Internet] [Cited 07/07/2020]

What is SMART objectives [Internet] [Cited 07/07/2020]

Reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee [Internet] [Cited 07/07/2020]


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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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