The future is at riskMay 12, 2017
Land of the rising sun and white powderMay 12, 2017
In the lead up to a new financial year, a lot of people are starting to worry about pay rises and performance reviews. For practice staff, Modern Award pay rates increase in July, and above-award or award-free staff often expect pay rises too. But when was the last time you actually had a one-on-one discussion with your staff members about how they’re performing, or about whether they really feel satisfied by their work, their remuneration, or what lies ahead in your business?
Good performance management isn’t just about discipline or annual pay rises. If done well, it can help a business grow and retain a loyal, engaged workforce, adding real value to the business bottom line and making it enjoyable to come to work. Too often, however, managers and principals shy away from the job until it’s too late – until relationships have already broken down or they’ve just fizzled out. When that happens, there is often no choice but to deal with the resulting disappointment and, often, resentment and conflict. So how can you avoid that happening to you?
Don’t avoid performance management!
We know performance management doesn’t come naturally to many people, and it certainly isn’t a skill they teach you at medical school. These days, it is also complicated by a minefield of employment laws that can terrify anyone who doesn’t have specialised training or experience in human resources. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds.
The first thing to remember is that performance management doesn’t need to be particularly time consuming. For example, making the time to schedule short but regular one-on-one meetings with your staff members can provide valuable opportunities to exchange feedback. And if you do it over coffee or lunch, you’ve killed two birds with one stone!
It also doesn’t need to be overly formal. In reality, good performance management is effective communication about the needs and expectations of both parties. Often, the key is simply talking to each other, in language you both understand, about your ambitions and priorities (just like you would hope to do in any other personal relationships). When that type of communication doesn’t happen, people tend to start seeing things differently, their priorities diverge and disagreements or disputes arise.
Of course, differences of opinion will inevitably occur in every workplace and, when tension builds, avoiding it won’t help. Usually, disagreements and disappointments are a sign that something needs to change (for better or worse), and it’s how you approach that change process that will most influence the outcomes. Starting from a position of respect for the other person is usually a good start: even if you don’t necessarily respect their performance or behaviour (in the context of your practice), respecting the person is a very different thing. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make hard decisions if an employee isn’t meeting your needs, but it will certainly help you focus on the real issues, separate out the emotion and, if necessary, negotiate an end to the relationship that is as positive as it could be for everyone involved. It will also help you understand the other person’s perspective: for example, if someone’s asking you for a pay rise that you feel you can’t afford, sometimes just listening to them respectfully may help you realise how important they are to your business, and how you actually can’t afford to disappoint their remuneration expectations!
Start the conversation
So are you thinking this all makes sense, but you don’t know where to start? Or are you wishing someone would just do it for you?
The good news is that you don’t have to do it all at once and, although we can’t do it for you, we can offer some help and guidance along the way. As a first step, we’d suggest you start by making sure you know:
• what your staff actually do for your business now (not just what their contracts or position descriptions say);
• how much they are paid (and how that compares to the Award and/or their peers in the market); and
• when they last received feedback about your expectations or their performance.
If you don’t know the answer to all those questions, ask, listen and observe until you have a better basis for starting a conversation about performance and future development expectations.
AMA (NSW) can also help by offering performance management tools for members, and we are currently running an education series on “Managing People & Performance Reviews”. Take a look at our website to find out more.
HERE ARE OUR TOP TIPS FOR GOOD PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT
Make giving and receiving regular feedback part of “business as usual”.
Feedback shouldn’t be something that’s seen as unusual or particularly special. It’s just a tool to help us find our way in the world and learn about what’s going to work best in the environment we’re in, particularly if the environment is changeable. Rather than saving up your comments for an annual review, give regular praise where it’s due and be upfront when you observe something that doesn’t meet expectations. Most people respond best when they feel like they are making incremental progress, so regular communication provides a framework to maintain that momentum.
Learn more about the legal framework affecting what you do.
Although employment laws can seem daunting (and they certainly are more complicated than they were even 10 or 15 years ago) at the basic level they’re still just a safety net for employees, designed to support good decision making and fair processes. So, unless you’re trying to do something particularly nasty or tricky, they’re really nothing to be afraid of, and a little bit of education is likely to provide you with a lot of reassurance (and may even provide you with a useful pathway
Put yourself in their shoes.
As a manager, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just looking at poor outcomes and assuming a particular staff member is wholly responsible for what’s happened. But there are usually a range of contributing factors, some of which may not be in their control. For this reason, it’s important to make an effort to see the situation from the
other side – which usually means asking them about it, and taking the time to listen to their feedback. Taking this approach will also help you address the real issues, rather than putting effort into misplaced or unwarranted disciplinary discussions that are focussed on the wrong things.
Don’t make decisions when you’re angry, frustrated or tired.
If you do, the chances are that part of your decision-making will be affected by past gripes, assumptions or other things that don’t really relate to an employee’s performance at all. When that happens, not only do you expose yourself to allegations of legal unfairness, discrimination and adverse action, you also risk poor business outcomes, by letting emotion cloud your otherwise rational judgment. Keep the emotion
out of it!
Don’t mix up the issues.
One thing managers often struggle with is separating unrelated issues out from performance discussions. Although linking pay levels to performance is often quite appropriate, other basic entitlements (such as the right to take sick leave, receive minimum award wages, etc) should never be held against an employee or treated as performance issues. If you’re finding it difficult to separate the performance issues from the other things that frustrate you, such as the employee’s fitness for work, operational needs or other considerations, you should probably get some professional advice to navigate the situation appropriately.