Managing staff is a never-ending daily task that comes with every business. How to appropriately and compliantly navigate those situations where a staff member is not performing up to standard can be a stressful time for even the most seasoned business operator. Over the next few weeks in this latest Mini Masterclass Series we will do a deep dive into Performance Management and explore the scenarios, the concerns, the protections and tips and traps for employers. This week we will go back to basics and review the first of the important elements of a good performance management approach, one that is often overlooked, resulting in disaster – calling a meeting.
What is the point of performance management?
A performance management meetings goal is to outline the issues and standard response, seek employee feedback and comment, and take those onboard before a final decision on how to proceed is made by the business.
It is worth the effort, as in many cases a great employee has simply ‘fallen off the rails’ or ‘strayed from the path’ and just needs an opportunity to discuss and reset so that they can return to star performance.
Identifying an Issue
When the business has identified an issue with performance it is important that the issue is addressed fully and promptly.
Poor performance that is ignored is poor performance that is accepted, and small breaches can quickly escalate.
Despite this need for prompt attention, it is imperative that complicated breaches are fully investigated and verified before approaching an employee about them, to avoid causing employees undue stress for issues that may not be, in reality, a concern.
When the business is satisfied that there is a matter that needs to be discussed and addressed the mechanism for addressing this is a performance management meeting.
The first step is to properly Call the Meeting.
STEP 1: Calling the Meeting
Calling the Meeting is a vital step in a good performance management approach, as done well it meets many of the elements of procedural fairness that are required of any performance management process. Unfortunately, done poorly, this step can result in a “harsh” or “unfair” process, even if there are clear and valid reasons for action.
Many businesses get themselves into trouble by skipping this step or failing to treat it with the gravity it requires.
Under the law any performance management process will be considered unfair and harsh if the employee is “surprised” with a performance management meeting.
Furthermore, all employees have the right to have a Support Person attend any performance management meeting to act as a witness for the employee, and failure to call the meeting appropriately may deny the employee the opportunity to arrange a Support Person, which would render the process harsh and unfair.
This leads to the question of ‘What is appropriate notice?’.
While it will differ in some circumstances, best practice is to schedule performance management meetings within the employees usual working hours, and with at least a days notice to allow for the employee to arrange a Support Person to be present if they desire. It is also vital that the employee understand that they are being called to a performance management meeting, and what it is concerning, so that they can prepare.
Example – poor performance
“Thank you for your time on the phone just now. As discussed you are required to attend a performance management meeting to address poor performance, specifically a pattern of late attendance, that may impact on your continuing employment. As discussed this meeting has been set down for [date], [time] at [location] and will be attended by [name] and [name] on behalf of the business. The business notes that this meeting fits within your usually rostered hours. Thank you for agreeing to participate in this process”
Example – gross misconduct – cash control breaches
“Thank you for your time on the phone just now. As discussed you are required to attend a performance management meeting to address gross misconduct, specifically serious breaches of cash control breaches, that are likely to impact on your continuing employment. As discussed this meeting has been set down for [date], [time] at [location] and will be attended by [name] and [name] on behalf of the business. The business notes that this meeting fits within your usually rostered hours. Thank you for agreeing to participate in this process“
Day to Day Chat or Performance Management Meeting?
While many businesses understand the importance of calling performance management meetings with appropriate notice, ACAPMA is often asked, what about day to day discussions that naturally evolve into performance management discussions. An example of this would be a standard weekly catch up meeting with an employee that highlights an issue that is of significant concern to the business and may amount to poor performance or even misconduct.
ACAPMAs advice in these situation is to note to the employee that this general discussion appears to be naturally turning into a performance management discussion and as such you are going to bring the discussion to a halt and schedule a meeting for the next day so that it can be explored properly.
If the outcome of the discussion COULD be termination, then it needs to be done as a proper performance management meeting called with notice.
Example – task discussion evolves to laundry list of issues
“Ok so what started out as a simple task chat has taken a turn and I think that we are best halting here to discuss in a formal performance management situation. Ill be in contact to arrange a meeting”
Barred from site?
In the rare circumstances where a serious issue arises as part of normal interactions, such as gross misconduct, where the business has concern about the employee remaining at work the concern and seriousness should be communicated to the employee and the employee stood down with pay until the matter can be explored in a formal performance management meeting.
What you need to remember;
- DO NOT surprise an employee with a performance management meeting
- DO NOT let an organic discussion morph into a performance management meeting
- DO call the meeting within employees standard working hours if possible
- DO call the meeting with enough time to allow the employee to arrange for a Support Person to be present as a witness if they choose (ideally 24 hours)
- DO ensure that the employee is made aware of the reason for the meeting “a Performance Management Meeting” and the specifics eg: ‘poor performance that may impact continuing employment’, ‘serious breaches and gross misconduct that is likely to impact continuing employment’
- DO ensure that there is a record of the calling of the meeting – call the meeting in person or on the phone, but confirm all details in an email or text
- Remember, even if there was a valid reason for termination, any termination that occurs where the employee did not know they were attending a performance management meeting, that they were denied the option of having a Support Person in attendance, that was called with false pretences, will be deemed to be unfair.
Step 2: The Meeting
Next week in Part 2 of this Mini Masterclass Series we will explore the Performance Meeting itself, the roles and important procedural fairness elements.
Members are reminded that ACAPMA can assist in the performance management of employees in member businesses through the provision of advice and support, from customised scripts and detailed advice to template letters and checklists. These services are included in the ACAPMA Membership and are at no additional cost. (see; https://acapmag.com.au/2021/11/mini-masterclass-performance-management-part-2/ ).
Here to Help
Safety Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. They are provided as general information for you to consider and do not constitute advice. You should seek further advice on your situation by contacting your legal advisor. ACAPMA members can access resources and receive advice, guidance and support from the ACAPMA employment professionals via firstname.lastname@example.org , it is free for members. ACAPMA Membership delivers this and more benefits, see; https://acapma.com.au/membership/ for more information.
Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM&IR)