Neil Buck: Managing performance checklist

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I bet if they were asked, most business leaders would be quick to say that they invest in thorough and robust performance management systems.

Why wouldn’t they? Of course if any leader wants to achieve their overarching goals, then they need to make sure that they’re achieving maximum output from their staff. To not do so would be madness!

However, are you missing vital parts of the puzzle and thereby restricting a wealth of opportunities to really get the most out of your staff?

To start the process of taking your performance management practices to the next level then at least consider the following points in this checklist:

1. Create a policy that’s well communicated to staff, and regularly reviewed

Creating HR policies and procedures isn’t just about ticking a few boxes. Any worthwhile documentation should support the day-to-day running of your business, prevent any problems from occurring, and ensure that you have a clear road map to follow if things go wrong. Done correctly, they can save you a load of time, money, and hassle.

If you don’t have a performance management policy that your staff know about and understand, then this needs to be your first action point.

Remember that any HR policy also needs to be regularly reviewed. Is it fulfilling its purpose if things have changed in the business? Is there room for improvement? Are there certain issues that keep arising, that need to be tackled? If you haven’t recently reviewed your documentation, then consider what needs putting in place.

2. Upskill your line managers

As your business grows, it’s unlikely that you will be able to manage all the performance discussions. The responsibility will be passed over to your line managers, and this, of course, makes sense if they are the ones who staff report to on a daily basis.

Ensure that your line managers have the appropriate skills and training. Are they confident with the task? Do they understand its importance? And are they operating within the policies and frameworks that you have created?

3. Ensure privacy and time

What you discuss in performance management meetings should be confidential, so make sure that you’re making your staff feel welcome, comfortable, and at ease. Set enough time aside and if necessary, book a slot in a meeting room, and make it clear that interruptions are unacceptable unless there’s an emergency.

4. Agree and confirm any action points

During the discussion, there’ll be action points for your employee to take away. Even the highest performing staff will have priorities to work on, so they can continue to make a solid contribution and expand their skills, knowledge, and capabilities.

You need to be clear, fair and objective on exactly what performance you wish to see. The key to success here is ensuring that the action points are agreed to. They shouldn’t be simply thrust upon the individual without any discussion or agreement. Getting your staff on board with the goals will make sure that they’re committed to bringing them into fruition. They need to ‘own’ it.

5. Regularly revisit and assess the goals and progress being made

Performance management isn’t just about holding a few meetings once a quarter. If you want to facilitate big improvements and exceptional progress, then you need to make sure that performance is something that is engrained in your business culture.

Will your line managers check-in with their direct reports? Will they provide regular feedback? Will they collate information that helps them to build up a picture of how things are going? These things can take time, for sure, but they’re very worthy items on any manager’s agenda.

6. Ask the individual to contribute by sharing their views and opinions

It’s crucial that you always ask individuals to share their thoughts on how they’ve performed over the period, and what they think they need to focus on in the near future.

You might unearth important information that you hadn’t previously thought about, and making it a two-way conversation shows your staff that you respect and value their contribution.

7. Welcome feedback on your own performance

Have you stopped to think about how you’re performing as a business leader? If you’re not already doing so, think about how you might be able to collect meaningful and honest feedback from your members of staff. Being a good leader is an ongoing process, and you need to have continuous development on your list of priorities, always.

8. End discussions on a supportive and positive note

Often, there will be less than favourable feedback that needs to be delivered in performance discussions. It’s essential that you and your managers are comfortable when it comes to handling the more negative aspects. Still though, it should never be all doom and gloom.

If improvements need to be made, then you need to make it clear that you aren’t just ‘telling your staff off’. They should leave the meeting feel supported, and positive about the changes that they’re going to make. They should obviously be clear on what is required.

9. Keep your admin in order

Having full and accurate records is essential for continuity purposes, and it also ensures that you have documentation that backs up your decisions (that should be objective and fair). It’s worthwhile taking a look at your systems here, and asking yourself whether they’re the best they could possibly be.

Lastly, employers have to accept there is no simple ‘magic bullet’ or ‘secret sauce’ for achieving optimised performance – it is simply a combination of many things that need to be engrained and consistently applied in every organisation to have the ultimate effect.

Other things to help manage and improve performance overall include such things as having a robust induction process, using probationary periods, issuing the contract of employment and a job description to set expectations, a staff handbook that contains the disciplinary procedure and rules and a capability policy, plus of course having a suitable appraisal/PDR process.