HR Matters - Creating a high performance culture...

25 May 2016

According to 83% of respondents to a recent survey of HR professionals, cultivating a high performance culture is one of the key capabilities required

According to 83% of respondents to a recent survey of HR professionals,(1) cultivating a high performance culture is one of the key capabilities required by an ideal HR leader in order to contribute to and advance strategic-level planning.

If this aim resonates with you, then consider how good would it feel to be able to report to your leadership team that as a result of your strategy:

  • your employees have a clear understanding of what your company wants to achieve and they live the values of the business
  • you have implemented a straightforward performance management system where good performance is recognised ‘in the moment’  
  • poor performance is frowned upon and is nipped in the bud quickly
  • your employees are committed to going the extra mile to achieve success
  • line managers and supervisors across the business have embraced these processes, and have willingly accepted accountability to ensure their success.

There are other wins to be had from a great performance management system, for example: the positive effect it can have on business performance and an improvement in HR metrics. It will contribute to the retention of key employees and improve employee engagement, which in turn reduces the level of sickness absence and helps to foster a culture of mutual respect and support.

But we already have performance management processes in place!

You are likely to have a number of processes already in place but ask yourself, are they actually working and achieving your aims? If not, then is it time to consider a re-think and review?

I regularly train line managers and supervisors on how to performance manage their staff and one of the most common bugbears is that the appraisal documentation is either too long or irrelevant to the staff being appraised. It is regarded as a time-consuming burden that they would rather avoid.

A lot of managers struggle to properly manage this process because they lack the skills and confidence to tackle underperformance, for example: “there’s no point going through this now, he’s going to leave soon anyway”. Of course, the poor performer might be looking for another job but it can take a long time to find one and in the meantime their poor performance is being ignored, causing resentment from colleagues.

Another example: “He’s been doing the role for so long now how can I change/tell him now?” Fine, but how long are you going to put up with it? Regardless of how awkward it might be, sometimes you have to grab the bull by the horns and have that difficult conversation. Feedback is not personal; it should be entirely related to an individual’s work. Managers should not shy away from the process of delivering honest feedback.

I personally welcome the growing trend of moving away from annual appraisals in favour of regular reviews and ‘check-in’s’ with employees pioneered by the likes of Deloitte and others. This involves a more informal system of performance management by giving regular, real-time feedback. Public recognition for good performance is a very powerful motivator so success should be celebrated when it is earned and in contrast, timely and constructive feedback be given to notify an individual that their performance could be improved.

Of course, it is easier to share positive feedback but when feedback is given more regularly and there is a two-way dialogue between a manager and his/her employee, giving negative feedback can be less daunting for all concerned.

From a legal perspective, I would still advocate that a clear record of informal feedback is kept in some form: an email following up agreed action points, or a note in a day book. I regularly come across cases where employees will plead complete ignorance about their shortcomings and maintain that they were never actually told by their manager. This can make it more difficult and time-consuming to formally manage someone’s performance. Worse, if a business conducts a redundancy selection exercise, it can end up with some of its poorest performers coming out with better scores if the data is based on poorly completed appraisal ratings.

So what are the recommended steps to introduce new performance management processes?

The stepping stones to a high performance culture

Step 1: Devise the right process for your business

Yes you can get a standard appraisal form off the internet, but successful performance management is not simply about your managers completing a form based on historical objectives that can often have little relevance to today’s strategy or worse, shortcomings are addressed for the first time. Good performance management aims to give continuous feedback and to take regular snap shots to measure tasks/quality against objectives. Put simply, it should ensure that everyone:

  • knows and understands what is expected of them
  • has the skills to deliver on those expectations
  • has the organisation’s support to meet those expectations
  • is monitored and reviewed and given regular feedback on their performance.

In my experience, line managers are often fearful of the legal repercussion of ‘getting it wrong’. However, the performance management process can be quite straightforward. A clear capability procedure is recommended which sets out a set of clear sequential steps to be followed to manage poor performance.

I would also suggest that regular informal feedback sessions are anchored with bi-annual reviews which are punchy and appropriate to the role.

Step 2 – Gain support

For any performance management system to succeed it needs the full support of the leadership team, line managers and supervisors and the workforce itself. First, the leadership team need to share the business strategy and goals so that they can be readily communicated and aligned to individual goals, tasks and actions.

Support from your line manager community might come more easily if you are prepared to embrace a more flexible approach to appraising and reviewing staff.

In my experience this cycle needs to be line manager-led, rather than HR, to ensure that those managers are fully engaged in the process.

Step 3 - Implement

A performance management cycle should be simple to follow and typically include:

  • Prepare
    • Agree individual expectations
    • Set out the deliverables and measure of success
  • Monitor
    • Continuously monitor and evaluate progress towards goals
    • Consider any training needs
  • Review
    • Review and evaluate against goals
    • Revise as required

Shaping Excellence - Helping you to improve your line manager capability

We recognise that line managers and supervisors often find themselves running teams following a promotion with little or no managerial experience or training. In response to this we have developed a modular in-house training programme to help give managers the necessary tools and confidence to effectively manage their teams.

Our Shaping Excellence training programme ensures that managers have a practical and working understanding of four critical areas.

1. Managing performance
2. Promoting equality and diversity
3. Managing ill-health and disability
4. Completing employee investigations

We can run each module as part of a management training programme or alternatively, you can cherry pick specific modules depending on your requirements. For further details of our Shaping Excellence programmes please contact Catherine Johnson.

A performance checklist

  • Ensure that job descriptions are up to date and reflect the role carried out.
  • Devise a performance review system that is fit for purpose for your business (this could involve a number of different processes depending on job type).
  • Engage stakeholders in the business to share ideas on the review system and accept ownership.
  • If poor performance problems arise then don’t turn a blind eye but ‘nip them in the bud’ early.
  • Train managers on all aspects of dealing with performance management and tackling poor performance.

Source: 1. Hays, ‘The DNA of an Ideal HR Director’ (2014).

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding creating a high performance culture, please contact Catherine Johnson. Law covered as at May 2016.

This article is taken from our HR Matters Summer 2016 publication. Similar articles can be found in the latest edition.