Getting the most out of employees is difficult in today’s highly regulated world. Performance management is not just about dealing with the poor performers. It is a process that begins with getting the right people, setting employee expectations, coaching employees, and terminating the employment of the poor performing employees.
An orientation of new employees should cover benefits, rules, and performance expectations. The better you articulate these expectations, the more likely people are to meet and even exceed your expectations. Orientation gets new employees enthused about their jobs. You never get a second chance to make a first impression!
In orientation, new employees should complete basic employment forms, receive an employee handbook, and execute any agreements with confidentiality or non-competition provisions. Clearly articulating performance expectations in writing makes sure that employees are aligned with the practice’s expectations and, hopefully, prevents employees from straying outside the bounds of acceptable performance. Having policies in writing will be important if litigation arises.
Training should be documented by requiring employees to complete sign-in rosters and individual forms, and these should be retained in the employees’ personnel files.
If you get the first two steps correct, then performance “coaching” becomes easier. Even with high performers, pre-existing mechanisms need to be in place to periodically review and tune-up performance. The most basic mechanisms for performance coaching are progressive discipline procedures, and periodic performance evaluations.
Although progressive discipline is not required and should not be promised, most employers try to rehabilitate employees before terminating their employment, in part because of the high cost of recruiting, selecting, and on-boarding new employees. To be effective, discipline needs to be timely, objective, impartial, consistent, and appropriate for the circumstances. Progressive discipline may also help avoid legal liability.
Evaluation systems help fine tune employee performance. Employees want the feedback, and having a system in place allows for constructive input without an employee feeling threatened. Evaluations also provide an opportunity to offer additional training, guidance, and support to help employees perform better.
Getting rid of poor performers
If attempts to rehabilitate poor performers fail, the last resort is transitioning them out of the practice. When done correctly, termination of poor performers or those who engage in misconduct may help a practice avoid legal claims.
Rather than reacting after a problem surfaces, look at performance management as starting when a job opening is created. Invest in recruiting, screening, orientation, training, setting expectations, and creating effective performance evaluation systems. The goal is to gain high-performing employees and avoid discharging poor performers. Achieving these goals will help minimize your exposure to employment litigation.
D. Albert “Bert” Brannen is regional managing partner in the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, a national law firm that represents employers in labor, employment, employee benefits, business immigration, workplace safety, and civil rights matters. He can be reached at [email protected], 404-240-4235, or visit laborlawyers.com/dbrannen.