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Why Compliance Will Never Fix Poor Performance

For convenience in this blog I will refer to everyone from a CEO to the cleaner as ‘an employee’ when referring to a poor performer.


Imagine for a moment, you have had a few meetings with your boss and been unable to agree on your differences about your performance, then you attend a meeting with HR or another manager and are told to ‘improve your performance’.  If you didn’t resolve it with your immediate manager, why will another meeting with a different manager saying the same thing achieve a different outcome?


In my experience once the situation escalates beyond the immediate employee/supervisor relationship, enforcing compliance leads to nothing more than defiance or submission by the employee.  I think you will agree neither is a good outcome.


Which is why compliance will never fix poor performance.


If this approach delivers such poor outcomes, then why is it still the mainstream model and why do we persist with this approach?  I’d argue the answer lies in our legal system.  When a poor performance situation ends in an unfair dismissal claim, the Judge will certainly look at the company’s compliance to its own policies and procedures.  And where compliance to such policies and procedures is found wanting, the judge will correctly criticise the company. 

In response, companies tend to review and upgrade such documents in order not to repeat the same mistake again.


The flaw in this response is that more compliance creates more opportunities for a defence lawyer to argue the company ‘got it wrong’.


In my experience, the key to a successful resolution of poor performance that can be successfully defended if an unfair dismissal claim is lodged is to change our thinking from compliance to problem solving. 


Instead of using the ‘performance improvement plan’, focus on the management problem caused by the poor performing employee’s behaviour.  Now engage the employee to help resolve the problem.  If successful, performance improves.  If not, termination can occur and any unfair dismissal claim that is lodged can be successfully defended because the company can demonstrate to the judge that ‘it took reasonable management action in a reasonable way’.  I can say this with confidence because in almost 20 years I have never lost an unfair dismissal case when this approach has been followed.


You see, focusing on solving the management problem will resolve poor performance and demonstrate to any judge that reasonable management action was taken in a reasonable way.


The change is simple, the first step is to stop using performance improvement plans and start identifying and resolving the management problem.  Are you ready to try?

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Mark Shaw

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