Incorporating Performance Management at Your Organization
In order to keep everyone safe who walks through your doors, you need the right staff in the right positions—and you need to set them up for success with a clear sense of what is expected of them and how they will be held accountable. This is why HR practices and performance management at your organization are critical risk management tools.
Core Principles of Performance Management
In order to be effective, it’s important to ensure that your performance management approach:
- is a continual process between employees and managers
- allows both the opportunity, and responsibility, for both to give and receive feedback
- sets expectations clearly during the hiring process, onboarding and throughout the employee’s employment.
Because performance management is an ongoing process, it is important to make sure that it is incorporated through all stages of the employment cycle. Use the jump links below to skip to a specific stage of the cycle:
Before you hire an employee, there are many different opportunities to communicate what will be expected of them not only in their specific role, but also more broadly as an employee at your organization. If culture and expectations are clearly communicated from the beginning—both in your job descriptions and your interview process—it will lead to a better environment where employees and managers are able to receive feedback and improve performance. Two specific areas to focus on are job descriptions, and the interview process itself.
Expectations established for an employee are informed by their job description. A job description will let a prospective employee know the role and its duties, and how they are tied to the organization’s mission. Having a strong job description in place will lead to a better, more qualified recruitment process.
Below are a few things to remember when creating job descriptions:
- Be Consistent: Every employee in the organization should have an up-to-date job description at all times.
- Be Specific: The job description should be specific enough that it is clear what the role entails and what the employee will be held accountable for. Within the job description, you may also include some general language about performing other tasks as asked.
- Incorporate Safety: Every job description should have a core element of risk management, as safety needs to be a priority across the entire organization. This may be as simple as your organization’s code of conduct, child abuse prevention policies or a statement about a shared safety responsibility. Additionally, the job description should indicate any job-specific risk management components.
- Define Physical Requirements: A job description should also include the physical requirements of the job. These requirements are important to include as they make sure that the candidate is physically able to perform the tasks required, and is not putting themselves or others at risk of injury.
Job interviews are a critical part of the hiring process and are central to making sure your organization picks a candidate that is right for the role and dedicated to your culture of safety. That’s why it’s important that the interview process reflects the actual realities of the job you are hiring for. Below are some recommendations:
- Keep it Consistent: Every prospective employee should go through some sort of interview process, and the process should be consistent for all candidates applying for the same position.
- Encourage Reflection: Include scenario-based questions that reinforce the duties listed in the job description and test to make sure that an employee has the skills, knowledge and perspective necessary to perform those duties effectively.
- Reinforce the Job Description: Reinforce the job description throughout the interview so that the prospective employee can see if the position is a good fit for them, and so the hiring manager can see if the candidate is a good fit for the position too.
- Documentation: Document the interview process per your organization’s policies, and keep the records on file for future reference.
New Employee Onboarding
The interview process can help eliminate unsuitable candidates, and prepare successful ones for the work they will be doing. Then, once an employee is hired, it is important that your expectations of them are reinforced throughout the onboarding process. That’s why it’s important to have an onboarding process that is:
- Job-Specific: For each role, define a specific onboarding process that is unique to the duties that the employee will perform. It’s important to have this job-specific training plan in place before the employee starts.
- Risk-Focused: Every position involves some element of safety and risk management. That’s why it’s important to onboard everyone on the core safety and risk management expectations that are required by your organization, regardless of their role, as well as those that are role-specific.
- Clear and Documented: Before the onboarding process begins, make sure that your organization has an updated staff handbook, policies and—ideally—an employee code of conduct. Implement an annual policy review to make sure that all policies are present and updated. Throughout the onboarding process, educate and teach new employees not just about the policies themselves, but how they work in practice. Have the employee sign these documents and store them appropriately so that you have a record of the onboarding process.
Ongoing Performance Management
Hiring and onboarding are just the beginning. Having an ongoing performance management system in place will help hold employees accountable to expectations and identify areas where they can grow/improve on. Ideally, this will include both a clearly defined and documented performance review process, as well as a progressive discipline policy that corrects problematic behaviors or underperformance wherever possible, before they escalate to become major issues.
It almost goes without saying that performance reviews are an important part of performance management. However, too often, such reviews are inconsistent from one role or department to the next. That’s why it’s important to define a process that is:
- Ongoing: Performance reviews should be ongoing, not just once a year. This will help employees know where they stand and not get caught off guard. It will also provide supervisors the opportunity to correct behavior in the moment, preventing issues from compounding and potentially endangering the safety of others.
- Two-Way: Performance reviews are not just about providing feedback to employees. They also provide an opportunity for supervisors to hear from employees about the work that’s being done and how the organization can improve. Together, they can identify progress, challenges and goals that set all parties up for success.
- Mission-Oriented: During performance reviews, it is important to tie the employee’s work back to how they are contributing to the success of their team and your organization as a whole. When employees feel connected to your organization’s mission, they are more likely to be bought-in and engaged.
- Reflective: During a performance review, it is important to allow employees the chance to reflect and provide genuine feedback. Using open-ended questions can help them to think beyond the specific tasks they perform, and instead focus on the impact of their work. Some example questions you may ask are:
- What accomplishments are you most proud of this month?
- What goals do you have for the next month?
- What obstacles are standing in your way to achieve those goals?
- What impact has your performance had on the team? The organization?
- Documented: It’s important to document all formal reviews—both when someone is doing well and when there are challenges/discipline. This will help your organization when making promotions or hiring changes, and also in the event that someone gets hurt at your organization. It is critical that you are able to look back and see what feedback and guidance an employee received, both to improve the process for the future and to defend your organization if there are allegations of negligence.
- Audited: Make sure that your HR department, or a defined committee, is auditing reviews frequently. This will help you identify employees who are underperforming over time, track the performance of those who may have multiple supervisors in multiple locations, and identify trends in locations, departments or among supervisors. It will also serve as a safeguard against potential discrimination.
Of course, not all feedback needs to be given during official times—especially if that feedback is positive. Creating a culture where employees doing a good job are recognized in the moment can help reinforce those behaviors, and encourage others to step up. It is also important to correct behaviors in the moment when employees fall short, as this not only helps avoid someone getting hurt but also reinforces the culture of accountability for all. (You’ll still need to document substantive feedback—especially corrective feedback—for future reference.)
If an employee is underperforming or not upholding policies, a progressive discipline policy can help either steer them onto the right track, or identify when that person is simply not a good fit for their current position. Progressive discipline is a method that is focused not on punishment, but correction, and uses a defined and escalating spectrum of steps for dealing with underperformance and/or violations of organizational policy.
Below are some tips to making this effective at your organization:
- Review All Disciplinary Measures: Throughout your organization, discipline should be consistent, objective and fair. Creating a centralized review process where all discipline matters are reviewed, before disciplinary measures are applied, will make sure that actions are being done consistently between supervisors and departments, and without regard to discriminatory factors such as race, gender, age or physical ability.
- Document Everything: In the event that your organization does end up having to terminate an employee, it is critical that everything is documented and stored in an employee’s file.
- Define Your Red Lines: In your organization, there will be some behaviors—such as, but not limited to, abuse, theft, workplace violence, violation of drug-free workplace policies, breach of confidentiality, etc.—that result in automatic termination. Make sure that those types of behaviors are clearly expressed in a policy, including a clarifying statement that the list is not all-inclusive and the organization has the authority to determine appropriate disciplinary action in each situation.
Download sample progressive discipline and gross misconduct language.