You’re following the performance process line by line. Letter. Meeting. Documented outcome. Supports. Repeat. So why does the whole thing feel like a pile of poo?

Because the performance process is based on one key assumption that often isn’t true. Performance is about the person. And the lack of performance is within that person’s control, capacity and motivation to rectify.

This assumption is often kangaroo poo (I’m writing in an Australian context here. If you’ve ever wondered what roo poo looks like, please, enjoy the featured image).

The assumption is deeply flawed for a number of reasons.

  • It assumes the position the person was hired to do is the position they are actually doing.
  • It assumes the person has the capability to do the job they are actually doing.
  • It assumes the leader has the capability to lead – define the role, recruit to the role, setting clear expectations, providing feedback, creating connections, linking people to the vision and strategy of the organisation.
  • It assumes the system they are working in is functional and healthy and enables them to do their job unhindered.
  • It assumes there is no bias.
  • It assumes the person operates in a bubble unimpaired by emotion, health, or, well, life really.

Take this example. A manager wanted to terminate an employee in their probationary period. The employee wasn’t doing what the manager needed them to do. So we went back to the beginning. The manager had written the job description based on what they thought they needed. They had recruited against the job description. And they got the person they recruited for. A perfect match. Except that wasn’t the job that was actually needed. It was also very clear that the skill set of the person they hired didn’t match the actual job. So they were falling over.

This is a really crappy experience for the employee. They’ve left a job in good faith. Come to work with you. And now you’re going to sack them because you got it wrong. Technically the performance process is on our side.

But let’s be 100% honest here. That just sucks.

I have some pretty frank conversations with senior leaders about taking responsibility when the organisation has contributed to the situation the employee is now in. The performance process can be an emotional vortex. If you’ve ever been sacked I bet you remember it.

So what’s the alternative?

In this situation I encourage honesty. An honest conversation about where we are and what is happening. I’ll offer the employee a choice. We’ll work with you if this is the job you want and you’re in a position to give it your all. But if the employee doesn’t want to do that? There’s an option. A buffer. It usually involves softening the landing with a little extra in the payout to tide them over until they find a new role, agreements about how we’ll communicate the exit with their colleagues and a guarantee you can walk away with a reference. We’re not trying to ruin careers or make it hard for people to find other work.

I can hear a number of people yelling at me now about constructive dismissal. Yell away. If you want to put someone through a performance process based on flawed assumptions that’s not fair. I’m happy to argue the point with you all day.

Giving someone a choice, a soft landing, and the opportunity to take back a small iota of control in a situation where they don’t have a lot is my way of trying to put a little dignity and respect back in performance management. It’s not ideal. But it’s better than the alternative.

How do you react if faced with this situation?


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