Performance Systems and Poor Performers

The Brisbane Sunday Mail edition for the first day of the new year carried a story headlined “Workers spill on colleagues”. The thrust of the story was that a large proportion of Queensland Public Servants who were surveyed expressed a view about poor performers among their colleagues as “people were getting away with doing a bad job and good work was not recognised.”

Dissatisfaction with the way management handles employee performance issues is not confined to the public service. It may be more evident there because of the size and complexity of public service organisations but even small organisations are not immune from disharmony among workers created by ineffective performance management systems.

Just because there is an appraisal system in place does not mean that it is effective and that employees see it as fair and equitable.

Dealing with poor performers

                   The SundayMail 1 January 2017 page 21

Ineffective Performance Management

Employees see failure to ensure fairness and equity in performance systems as impacting in two key areas

  1. Reinforcing continuing poor performance; and
  2. Discouraging the better performers.

Management inaction in addressing poor performance often gives rise to the following responses:

“I work hard and don’t expect extra reward, but I do expect management to deal with other staff who are not pulling their weight”angry-employees

“Why should I bust a gut to get things done on time when others are always late and are never reprimanded for it?”

“If management is going to let other staff slackened off, they should at least give the rest of us due recognition and reward for being diligent”

It is often more about perceived inequity than about the actual poor performance of others – unless that poor performance impacts directly on those aggrieved by causing delays or creating errors or defects in products or services.

It is natural for employees to want to be recognised for the good work. But sometimes they just want the non-performers to be called out.

If there is a pronounced difference in effort or work quality between employee groups without being addressed by management the job satisfaction and morale of the performing group will no doubt be affected, with flow on consequences for productivity.

Attitudes to poor performers

Employees can have strong views about performance systems that evade management’s antenna. Management may believe that the system is working well because interviews are held and paperwork is completed. Under the surface however there may be substantial dissatisfaction at the variation in outcomes from the appraisals.

Of particular interest to many employees is whether management will act on the findings of the appraisals in terms of recognition of high performers as well as counselling and censure of poor performers.

Frequent criticisms of performance systems by employees include

  • performanceappraisalstampThe form of the appraisal is meaningless, the questions are irrelevant and there is no real measurement of performance outcomes
  • The supervisors just go through the motions and don’t really engage with the employees. They don’t ask the tough questions. They are afraid of conflict and won’t take on the under-performers.
  • The poor performers are either not confronted or they are given continual chances to make excuses. There are no consequences for poor performance.

The latter is often the biggest complaint from employees who see others getting a free ride in the face of poor performance.

Unless there are meaningful consequences poor performance behaviour continues to flourish.

Often missing are the foundations for a effective performance such as

  • a well-designed and presented framework
  • effective training for management and employees in the system
  • an appraisal system based on equity, fairness and honest engagement
  • supervisors and managers responding to all appraisals with meaningful consequences in relation to both recognition and censure as appropriate
  • quality assurance procedures to review the system and its outcomes to ensure consistency and equity

When was the last time you gave your organisation’s performance management system a thorough review?

When was the last time you asked your employees if they think it is fair and equitable?

If you need help in developing or refining your performance system call in Reinforcements


Article by Gary Kellar

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