HR’s three biggest performance management mistakes

by Chloe Taylor20 Jul 2015
Managing poor performance is an issue that is, unfortunately, commonplace for many HR professionals – and one that has the potential to wreak havoc if handled poorly.

Because of this, it can be tempting to avoid performance management altogether, out of fear that it could lead to a costly unfair dismissal allegation.

According to Julian Riekert, partner at Lander & Rogers, following proper procedures will ensure that performance management and termination are both possible and defensible.

Ninety per cent of dealing with performance issues successfully, Riekert said, is about being thoroughly prepared and having a plan of action which is both clear and simple.

“Employers need to have a clear and workable performance management policy and procedure, and which the employer must ensure it follows,” he said. “A performance management process can fail because employers do not follow their own process.”

However, he advised employers to be aware that following the correct processes does not automatically warrant protection from unfair dismissal claims.

“But we think it is time that employers started contesting these types of claims,” he continued. “When employers have done everything right and they have a strong case, they can certainly defend an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission and win.”

Aaron Goonrey – also a partner at the firm – agreed with Riekert, adding that these situations will always place managers under pressure.

“During the conciliation phase there will always be pressure on employers to settle as a quick and easy option, even where they have properly followed their processes and procedures,” he said. “Word needs to get out that the performance management process is a legitimate course of action for employers and that it is possible to see it through to a successful conclusion.”

Goonrey and Riekert added that it is vital for employers to check the employment agreement before taking any course of action, and new employees should be closely monitored during their probationary period.

Riekert told HC that there are a few mistakes which are particularly common:
  1. Not dealing with poor performance when it arises, and hoping it all improves with time.
  2. When employers don’t want to confront an employee because they personally find it challenging and anticipate that the employee will also, they tend to give bland mixed messages which don’t convey the full picture to the employee.
  3. Not acting to terminate employment when it has become clear that performance has gone way below the acceptable level and isn’t improving.
He advised that once an employee has been in employment for six months (for companies with 15 or more employees) or 12 months (for companies with 14 or less employees), they gain access to the unfair dismissal system.

“If during that period – when the employee doesn’t have access to the system – you have concerns about their performance, there usually isn’t much benefit in giving the employee the benefit of the doubt,” Riekert said.

“Employers should act during that time, as it isn’t worth waiting it out to then get dragged to the FWC and go through the whole legal process.”


  • by 20/07/2015 11:36:01 AM

    I support this article completely, it never ceases to amaze me the amount of employers who tolerate poor performers or worse still pay 'go away' money to avoid confrontation. The FWC in my experience as an employer advocate has been fair, there is no situation they have not seen before and recognise a concocted claim for unfair dismissal. That being said there is a process that must be followed as the article mentions.

  • by Kate 20/07/2015 12:07:56 PM

    I take particular offence at the article heading, suggesting it is "HR's three mistakes". In 20 years I regularly see line managers making these mistakes. It is HR who usually has to come in and pick up the pieces, be the one to make the tough decisions or defend the results of poor performance management. Suggesting in the heading that HR makes these mistakes is, I think, poor form.

  • by Bernie Althofer 21/07/2015 7:10:10 AM

    From my perspective (and not as a HR person), it seems to me that line managers and supervisors play a critical role in managing performance. Whilst HR might be the delegated 'owners' of the organisational performance management policy and procedures, the effective implementation lies with the line managers and supervisors.

    Unfortunately where organisations do not provide consistent or regular training in relation to the performance management processes, and where the culture is such that 'short cuts' are taken, and where line managers or supervisors are too closely aligned with their workers, they will not make the decisions required to manage under performing employees.

    I once spoke to a senior manager regarding his role and actions in relation to IR and HR. He indicated that 90-95% of his time was spent 'sorting out' IR and HR problems created by his middle managers. The middle managers were being rewarded for operational results and were not being trained in IR or HR related matters. In some cases, some of the middle managers were acting on what they thought should be done, and not what was required to be done. It makes sense to me to ensure that if a line manager or supervisor has some legislative obligation (sometimes reflected in job or position descriptions), then they should at least receive training. HR could play a key role in ensuring that these line managers are equipped to make decisions that will not adversely impact on the organisation.

    In all the years I have been providing advice, support or guidance in relation to workplace bullying, workplace practices (including performance management) and communication have been the two stand out issues that contribute to allegations and/or perceptions of workplace bullying. Putting all the blame on HR creates a perception or belief in the minds of some line managers and supervisors that they can simply pass IR or HR decisions on to HR for them to handle.

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