In the constantly changing compliance environment it is important, even in established, sophisticated businesses, to take some time out occasionally to review the business systems and approaches to ensure that they reflect best practice and are appropriate for the business size, style and operation. It is staggering how quickly a business can outgrow a process that used to work for them, or how quickly a small change that is missed can lead to large issues later on. This Employment 101 Series is all about going Back to Basics – ensuring that the simple systems and requirements are understood and operational, so that we can build on them and focus on the growth of the business.
Calling a meeting with staff to discuss performance issues is always challenging. Navigating the business requirements and human issues means that managers need to tread carefully. This already difficult situation is further complicated by confusion around access to, and the role of, ‘Support Persons’ in performance meetings. This instalment of the series will explore the basics of getting Performance Management right.
Any meeting with staff that is going to discuss their performance, good or bad, is a performance meeting. When calling a performance meeting with staff it is important to let them know as far in advance of the meeting as possible. It is also important to explicitly state that it is going to be a performance meeting. This is especially important if the result of the meeting is likely termination.
In the case of a meeting that is likely to result in termination it is important to let the staff member know that it is a meeting to discuss their performance and that termination is a possible or likely outcome of the meeting.
The notification that the meeting is a performance management meeting allows staff to prepare for the meeting and to call on a support person, if they so choose.
The role of a support person
Many staff and support persons are confused as to the role of the support person during the performance meeting. Many recent cases before the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission have highlighted that the support person holds a distinctly different role to that of an advocate.
In one particular case the support person is present at the meeting to witness the conversation, and to offer emotional support to the staff member but they are not allowed to speak on behalf of the staff member.
An advocate is someone who speaks with the staff members voice, and there is provision for this in the Commission or in certain bargaining processes. In the performance meeting, even if the support person is also a qualified or recognised advocate they may not act on behalf of or speak for the employee.
It is important that if the employee invites a support person that management review the role of the support person before the meeting begins, so that everyone is clear as to their role and capacity in the meeting.
It is important to thank the support person for being at the meeting and remind them that they are there to be a witness for the employee and offer emotional support, but that they are not to speak on behalf of the employee or to attempt to control the conversation.
It is often helpful at this point to offer to have a separate meeting with the support person at a later date to answer any questions they may have about the meeting.
During the meeting
During the meeting it is important to focus on facts, behaviours, expectations and outcomes. This does not mean the presentation of a ‘laundry list’ of errors, but rather a discussion of behaviours that the business expects and the behaviour that has been demonstrated. This is also the time to reiterate that the expected behaviours and likely outcomes of breaches were well understood by the employee (via training, onboarding, policies, toolbox talks, memos etc).
After outlining the issues, expectations and outcomes seek clarification from the employee. Ask for ‘their side’. Listen attentively and then reflect what you heard and understood.
Close the meeting by thanking the employee for their participation and by explaining that the business now has a decision to make on the options for addressing the poor performance. Again note that those options include retraining, performance management plan or termination as appropriate.
Let the employee know that you will get back to them shortly with a formal letter noting the discussions and outlining the responses.
After the meeting
It is important that after the meeting all of the options for addressing the poor performance are considered in light of the information that the employee has raised in the meeting. Once a decision on how to proceed has been made this will need to be documented in a letter to the employee.
Formal warning or termination letters should make reference to the meeting date, the discussions (incident, behaviour, expectations and prior knowledge of expectations and outcomes) and any previous warning letters or meetings that are relevant before outlining the decision and reasons.
Regardless of the treatment option that is selected the employee should be presented with the letter and their receipt of it should be documented, either via a sent email, registered mail or presentation in the presence of another management person who can confirm that the letter was presented.
It is also important to document all proceedings, the performance meeting, the management meeting, the notes taken in the meeting and the formal letter in the employees staff file.
More From This Series
Employment Compliance 101:
More on Performance Management
If you would like to explore performance management tips, traps and approaches in greater detail see;
Here to Help
ACAPMA members are reminded that ACAPMA has a series of resources from Quick Reference Guides to template letters and investigation and reporting checklists that can assist with ensuring compliant and consistent responses in this area, and can call on the advice and support of the ACAPMA Employment Professionals via firstname.lastname@example.org .
HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business.
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Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM &IR)