Avoid high-performance culture pitfalls

by 03 Nov 2009

Businesses pursuing a high-performance culture should make sure employment processes are well managed and that employee expectations are communicated at a company-wide level to avoid any perception by employees of personal intimidation or discrimination, according to a leading employment law firm.

The best high-performance businesses were those that ensured their workplace processes were implemented correctly, said Nichola Constant, senior associate at Harmers Workplace Lawyers.

“Companies that set high standards for employee performance and company commitment, without the most rigorous of management guidelines and training, risk being subject to legal remedies by individual employees,” she said.

Constant said that while many employers had a good understanding of what constitutes best practice in this area, the importance of adhering to best practice performance management has been heightened by employees’ increased access to unfair dismissal legislation contained in the Fair Work Act.

“If an organisation has poor performance management processes – or even has good process but poor implementation – then it is possible that an employee who has been dismissed for failing to adhere to certain performance standards may have cause to bring claims of unfair dismissal, breach of the Fair Work Act’s general protection provisions or breach of contract claims upon the employer,” she said.

Constant said a key element to ensure individual employees did not feel daunted or intimidated or targeted by performance standards or the managers who monitor those standards, was to ensure expectations were communicated at a company-wide or firm-wide level.

“Employers should communicate any ‘high-performance’ message equally with all employees, and that message should be explained as company-wide or business division objectives to avoid any employee perceiving it to be an action of individual intimidation or discrimination,” she said.

“Also, for any employee that works part-time or on reduced hours, is taking maternity leave or has carer’s responsibilities outside of work, it is important they feel confident that an overarching expectation of high performance can be met by all employees, regardless of their individual circumstances, such as their ability to give out-of-hours time commitment to the business.”

She said it also helped to provide a clear explanation of how the set targets or higher standard of employee performance would help the business succeed. “Employees will much more readily engage with high-performance standards if they can see how they will help meet business objectives and, therefore, improve the individual benefits they enjoy,” she said.

Promoting a high-performance culture

• Ensure employees are aware of the performance criteria and the company and personal benefits of the high-performance culture

• Document the expected work standards

• Recruit employees who will be able to meet these standards

• Put processes in place to identify when standards have not been met

• Inform employees in a timely manner if their performance has not been satisfactory and then take positive steps by providing training and mentoring opportunities

• Set targets that are appropriate and not tied to unrealistic expectations; targets should be regularly reviewed and adjusted as required


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