Capability management mistake 2: Being vague about your concerns

Emma WebsterEmma Webster, Employment Solicitor at Yesslaw share’s another common mistakes she sees made when tackling performance.

Whenever employee clients come to see me with concerns about a performance management process, their comments are nearly always the same: “I just don’t understand what I’m doing wrong or what they want me to do to improve.”

They usually report going into a meeting, being told that they weren’t good enough and that they must do better. They are not told in any useful detail what they have been doing wrong nor what they are meant to do to improve. The letter sent to them confirming what needs to change is usually similarly vague. In my view the manager has bottled it. They have attempted to avoid confrontation in the worst possible way – by half saying what they mean.

Vagueness causes problems because:

  1. The employee has no idea what they’re doing wrong nor how they can effectively change their behaviour.
  2. You will not see any improvement in the employee’s work because they do not understand what you are looking for.
  3. The process will drag on, often without a satisfactory resolution.
  4. You will not be able to fairly dismiss the person because they are incapable of doing their job (even if they are) because a tribunal will find that your vagueness has denied them the opportunity to improve and that no fair process has been followed.

Before you hold any performance improvement meeting prepare yourself. Here are my top tips:

  1. Pretend you haven’t lived through this situation for the last 6 months and come to it afresh.
  2. Write a list of what the employee has been doing wrong. Re-read that list – would a third party, unconnected to the school, understand exactly what the employee is doing wrong? If no, rewrite it until you think they would.
  3. Where possible attach examples of the below standard work or give dates of the under-performance. E.g.

“I am concerned that you are not able to appropriately control the students’ behaviour. This arises from A) 3 teachers heard you shouting at your students on 2 April, B) One of your students was found on their own in the corridor during class time on 5 May etc.”

  1. Write a list of what you want them to do to improve. Be clear and precise. E.g. “Stop shouting at students and use the school’s approved traffic light behavioural management system.”
  2. Set out for each improvement how you propose to help them achieve that improvement e.g. training, observation, feedback etc.
  3. Have a date in mind for the next meeting and give a time frame for when the improvements are required by.
  4. Go into the meeting being prepared to listen to what the employee has to say. You may have misunderstood some of the reports made to you and there may be valid explanations for some temporary poor performance. In addition if you listen you may better understand what help the employee needs from you to improve and you should amend your support plan accordingly.

No performance improvement conversation is going to be easy. But if you are properly prepared you will be more confident and therefore more able to be clear and focused even when challenged.

Make sure your ‘house’ is order with a free chapter from ‘Journey to Outstanding’ where Sonia Gill shares with you some common documents that are not in place and cause problems when you need to tackle under-performance.  Click here to get the chapter.