All employers are having to react to the challenges arising from the Coronavirus outbreak.
The welfare and protection of staff is paramount, coupled with the economic implications and consequent organisational changes. In particular, the advice around social distancing has resulted in many employers having to introduce measures for staff to work at home and stop non-essential travel. These measures will amount to new ways of working for many employers.
Here, we set out some guidance to managers, who may be unfamiliar with managing staff members remotely, and remind ourselves that the fundamentals of performance management remain relevant.
So, what does this mean for managing performance?
Employers should rightly be grateful to staff who remain able to provide some form of work during these challenging times.
Managing with sympathy and understanding is vital; recognising that staff members are similarly having to adapt to new ways of working is an important factor. However, notwithstanding that, employers can and should have a legitimate expectation that staff members produce a level of performance that satisfies the ongoing needs of the business.
What are the key factors for managing performance?
The hallmarks of a fair performance management process are:
- Setting the standards of reasonable and acceptable performance for each job;
- Ensuring that these standards of performance are clearly communicated to staff members;
- Implementing and consistently applying ways of measuring/assessing individual performance (e.g. one to ones; appraisals; performance reviews);
- Providing informal feedback and advice to help maintain and improve individual performance;
- Where there is a genuine and reasonably held view that a staff member is performing below expectation, notwithstanding informal feedback previously provided, introducing a structured performance improvement plan (PIP);
- Giving notice of and instigating formal performance/capability procedures if the staff member does not achieve the standards set out in the PIP.
The hallmarks of the formal procedure are:
- Meetings during which the manager should provide the evidence of poor performance and explore the reasons for it (at which the staff member may be accompanied);
- Exploring what steps can reasonably be taken to support the staff member to improve his/her level of performance in the specific areas identified;
- Allowing a reasonable amount of time for the staff member to improve with the support in place;
- Setting clear expectations for improvement;
- Explaining the potential consequences of failure to improve;
- A series of escalated warnings up to and including dismissal.
The aim of any formal procedure is to achieve an improvement in performance to the reasonable and acceptable standard expected from the outset.
What difference do measures introduced as a result of the Coronavirus make?
These principles of performance management can and should continue to be applied, notwithstanding the introduction of new ways of working.
Managers should continue to monitor performance to ensure that the overall objectives for which they are responsible are being met; managers should then be able to identify when individuals are delivering below expectation.
However, managers should take into account that staff members are working in unfamiliar territory, which may have an expected and understandable impact on performance in the immediate term. Therefore, to that extent reasonable and acceptable performance stands should change to reflect that. Managers should assess how long such adjusted expectations may be allowed to last and have open discussion with colleagues about adjusted expectations.
Also, it may not be possible to replicate the specific nature of the work and tasks carried out in “normal” times. Much will depend of the type of work done within the business. Therefore, employers can legitimately seek some flexibility from staff members as to the nature of the work and tasks carried out in any adjusted working arrangements. Again, it is important for managers to set clear guidelines as to what is required of staff members in the adjusted work environment.
Managers are also advised to consider how monitoring will take place (e.g. periodic conference/skype calls; periodic review of work electronically stored/submitted). It is important for managers to consider how work should be submitted and where it should be stored.
Whereas the procedures relating to performance management would usually be carried out in face to face meetings, the social distancing measures introduced because of the Coronavirus would make it reasonable to conduct meetings remotely (e,g. by telephone conference/skype). Consideration will have to be given to ways of disclosing/sharing the evidence relating to an individual’s performance.
The fundamentals of performance management are not affected because of measures introduced to meet the challenges of the Coronavirus. The applications of those measures to specific circumstances may change.
For specific advice on what it means for your business, please contact a member of the Vista Team. Alternatively, you can find this guidance and more help through the Coronavirus pandemic, on our ‘Coronavirus Advice Hub for Employers’.
23rd March 2020