The primary purpose of performance management should be to encourage better performance from employees rather than to punish them.

It is essential for employers to monitor performance and where an issue becomes apparent regularly.

It should be dealt with promptly and help an employee achieve the standards that a Company requires.

As with most employment-related issues, it is crucial for a Company to have a clear performance management Framework which they can follow when an employee’s standards fall short.

Monitoring Performance and Training

Ideally, it would help if you conducted regular appraisals with employees so that any issues with performance can be addressed sooner rather than late.

As with most employment issues, prevention is better than a cure.

There are a variety of appraisal methods that can be utilised, but essentially you need to find a method that works well with the needs of your business.

Likewise, employers should consider whether on-going training is necessary for individual job roles and refresher training should be provided in areas where employees may need reminding what is required of them.

How to Handle Poor Performance

The Informal Route

Employers should always be proactive with performance issues.

As soon as an area of concern is identified, it should be discussed with the employee. Informal discussions in the first instance is usually best.

The ACAS Code of Practice suggests that this is a reasonable way in which to deal with performance issues, and while not legally binding, a Tribunal will consider whether you have complied with the Code when considering whether any subsequent dismissal is fair or not.

By having an informal discussion with the employee, you can highlight the concerns you have and develop a strategy to help that employee improve.

It may be the case that they require further training, supervision or support, or it may transpire that they are not sufficiently motivated, in which case, you should explore why they are not motivated, address those concerns, and if necessary take disciplinary action.

Whilst discussions with the employee are informal, you should still maintain a record of the meeting, and confirm in writing how you expect the employee to improve and over what period.

You should also make it clear that should their performance continue to fall short, you will have no alternative but to take further formal action.

At each stage of any performance management process, whether informal or formal, you should always make clear that:

  • You clarify the required standards;
  • Identify any areas of concern properly;
  • Identify any areas of concern adequately;
  • Establish the likely causes of poor performance and identify any training needs;
  • Set targets for improvement; and
  • Agree on a timescale for review.

Formal Performance Management Process

If an employee’s performance fails to improve despite informal discussions and having provided them with additional training, it may be necessary to start the formal performance management process.

In order to commence a formal performance management process, you should first collate any evidence that you have that demonstrates where the employee's performance has fallen short, including documents that illustrate previous discussions and plans that were implemented with a view to helping the employee improve.

Once you have gathered all of the evidence, you should invite the employee to attend a formal performance management meeting. As with other formal procedures, you must;

  • Invite the employee in writing;
    • including copies of all documentation that you intend to rely on.
  • give them notice of the meeting;
  • advise them of their right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative;
  • And set out what one of the potential outcomes of the meeting could be.

Much like disciplinary outcomes, performance management must take employees through a range of ‘warnings’ before they can reasonably terminate their employment.

However, whereas warnings are given with disciplinary issues, improvement notices are given to performance management.

Whereas with disciplinary outcomes, you issue the warning and are entitled to simply expect the employees conduct to improve, when you issue an improvement notice, you are also legally obliged to try and help employees to achieve the standards required. This can be by way of additional training, supervision or any other way in which you could help them achieve the required standards.

Performance Management Meeting

At the meeting, you should explain to the employee that this is a formal performance management meeting and ensure that the employee is aware of the reasons for the meeting and that they have received all the necessary documentation in advance of the meeting.

You should then go through each area of concern (as well as any evidence that you have to support that concern) and invite the employee to give you their explanation as to why their performance has fallen short.

You should always ensure that accurate minutes are kept of the meeting. Also ensure that the employee’s responses are fully reflected in those minutes.

While you will be aware of what the employee has said; you should bear in mind that a Tribunal will not know what has been discussed, so if the employee’s responses are not reflected in the minutes, this could affect any prospects of successfully defending any subsequent claim.

Outcome of the Meeting

Once you have concluded the meeting, you should go away and consider all the evidence before making your decision.

If a decision is (or appears to be) predetermined, this could render a dismissal unfair, so it is essential to be able to show that you have not only considered all the evidence but that you have also considered all the options available to you.

If you conclude that a formal sanction should be issued, you would issue a first improvement notice to the employee and set out how long the notice will remain live on their file.

You should confirm this decision in writing, explaining why you have reached the decision and you should also give the employee the right to appeal against the decision in line with your Procedure.

Any appeal should go to a different manager and ideally someone more senior.

In addition to this, you should also set out in the letter:

  • Set out the standards that have not been met;
  • Set out any training (or other) needs that the employee requires in order to be able to achieve these standards and also how they will be provided;
  • Set out targets for improvement;
  • Set a timescale for review and explain that performance will be monitored during this period; and
  • The consequences of failing to improve within the specified period.

Moving To Dismissal

If the employee’s performance continues to fall short despite the additional measures that you have put in place to help them achieve the required standards, you repeat this process, giving next a final improvement notice and then dismissal if the employee still fails to improve.

Any dismissals on the grounds of poor performance should be with notice (which is currently one week for each complete year of service unless your contract states otherwise).

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.