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Explain to Me Again Why We’re Doing Performance Management Reviews?

Posted by David Wight in Business Management, Human Resources, Leadership | 0 comments

I wish I had a dollar for every time a manager or attorney told me the reason why companies have Performance Management programs with formal annual reviews, is so they can terminate employees and protect themselves from being sued. Here’s my response:

“Pretend you’re a prosecutor in a murder case. The police find the murder weapon, a gun, with fingerprints on it, but no fingerprints of the defendant. Would that support your case or make it more difficult for you to get a conviction?

The answer is obvious: The gun makes your case more difficult to prove. If there are other fingerprints on the gun, this indicates that it wasn’t wiped clean before the police found it, and, if the defendant committed the crime you would expect his prints to be on it.

The same is true for annual Performance Reviews. When a manager who wants to terminate someone, goes to that employee’s past Performance Evaluations or Reviews to support their action, 90+% of those Reviews are glowing. They make it harder to justify terminating the employee! As the manager, you’d be better off if they didn’t exist.

Let’s look closer. First you need to determine if the reason for termination is associated with disciplinary action or poor performance. Discipline involves some form of unacceptable behavior or conduct. When it occurs, the employee becomes subject to the company’s (hopefully) progressive disciplinary policy with some combination of verbal warning(s), written warnings, possible suspension from work without pay, and ultimately termination of employment. The important point is that the employee has usually done something unacceptable, a specific behavior like fighting at work, using drugs on site, or excessive absenteeism or tardiness, and often there is a company policy that identifies such behavior as being subject to disciplinary action. Some behaviors like fighting or on-site drug use are usually grounds for immediate dismissal.

Unacceptable performance seldom involves one specific behavior. Instead, it usually focuses on the results the person is producing, and this shouldn’t be subject to disciplinary action. A better approach is a Performance Improvement Program (PIP) which usually gives the person a certain amount of time to improve their performance to a satisfactory level or risk termination.

The important point is that the Performance Management process is not the time or place for in-depth conversations in either case. If the person is on a PIP, the issue is unsatisfactory performance, and an additional discussion with the person as part of the Performance Management process becomes redundant. As the manager, you should are already be meeting with and giving the person feedback as part of the PIP.

If the person has received disciplinary action earlier in the year, then it becomes a judgment call as to whether the manager should continue to discuss it during any Performance Management conversations based on the gravity of the unacceptable behavior, where the person is in the disciplinary process, when the unacceptable behavior last occurred, and how the person has responded. Imagine a situation where an employee received a verbal warning for excessive tardiness in early March of the current year, but following that, they stopped being late. If you’re going to talk with them about their behavior later in the year as part of the Performance Management process, probably the only thing you’ll be saying is that you’re glad they corrected the excessive tardiness and encourage them to continue to do what they’ve been doing. Why would you want to say anything else? The word discipline, despite it’s current negative connotation, originally meant “to teach” in Latin. If the employee has “learned,” there is little to say other than to acknowledge it.

The approach I advocate for what I call the Performance Planning, Management & Development Process eliminates the year-end Employee Performance Review or Appraisal. Instead, the process focuses on the employee and manager having high quality discussions during the year to help them identify and manage what to do going forward The meetings are designed to review the status of the agreements that the employee and manager made at the beginning of the year in terms of desired results, and their behavior and decide what, if anything needs to change to get better performance. Any year-end discussion focuses on “lessons learned.” The year-end Employee Performance Appraisal just gets in the way. You can’t manage the past; you can only learn from it!

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