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managementRecently I was asked what I think the three main HR mistakes made by management. The ones we see over and over again are poor recruitment, no record keeping and failing to spot and manage poor work performance.

1. Poor recruitment practices

Getting the right people into the right places in a business is essential, but so many employers rush into recruitment without properly thinking through their requirement and doing the necessary planning.

The starting point is an accurate and up-to-date job description and person specification. Job descriptions are high level documents. They only need to contain three elements. Firstly, there should be a job title. Secondly, have two or three short sentences which summarise the key purpose of the role. The last section sets out the key tasks. It doesn’t have to contain every task the job holder might ever do, just the key tasks. Make sure you include a bullet point that says the job holder must also “Carry out any other reasonable management request”.

The person specification includes the qualities/ attributes/ experience/ skills/ knowledge etc without which the job holder could not do the job. In other words, don’t confuse merely desirable qualities with those which are essential (a very common mistake).

Use the job description and person specification to produce a factual advert and information pack, including details of the selection process.

CVs are the accepted starting point, but they often don’t tell us much, particularly if they come from a recruitment agency that has re-written the CV in its own format. Use pre-interview screening to try and determine whether the candidate is worth seeing. Simply asking for a cover letter covering several specified points can be helpful and is remarkably revealing. Another option is to ask candidates to do some form of testing as part of the initial submission process.

Interviews are still the most frequently used method of recruitment. You can make them more effective by using competence based questioning ie asking very specific questions about relevant competences and asking for detailed examples to evidence competence. Couple this with objective testing to make the selection process really rigorous.

2. Poor or no record keeping

Good record keeping is part of the workplace landscape, especially from a compliance point of view. But documenting employment activities such as training, feedback, performance or conduct issues is equally important. Unfortunately, it’s usually put off or not done at all. Yet unless you have clear and accurate records, it’s impossible to speak with any authority about a particular matter, especially if it was several weeks or months ago.

Just to give you an example, a part time teacher agreed verbally with her employer, one of our clients, that she would be paid a certain rate for her work. The parties agreed verbally that this would include periodic off site duties (visiting other schools for example), but that there would be no extra payment for these activities. The agreement was not confirmed in writing and the following term, they had a nasty surprise when the teacher wrote to her employer demanding a number of overtime payments which were not in the budget. While a verbal agreement is just as binding as a written agreement, it’s much harder to prove and they had to agree to make retrospective payments. Always evidence such agreements in writing with dated correspondence.

Recording informal discussions about performance or conduct is necessary because it proves that you have taken reasonable steps to correct under-performance or misconduct and shows that it is now appropriate to move to a formal exploration of the problem.

3. Tolerating poor work performance

Poor work performance is the most common employment problem. We always ask “do all of your employees meet all of your reasonable standards nearly all the time?” Unless the answer is a resounding “Yes!” then you have work to do.

Where you have a poor work performance issue, start by investigating the cause of the unsatisfactory performance with the employee. If you can remove or reduce the cause of the problem, the employee’s performance is likely to improve.

The key components of managing performance successfully are:

  • setting and communicating standards
  • regular feedback
  • correction where needed.

All too often an employee who is performing poorly gets distinctly shirty when you try to discuss it with him and mutters darkly of bullying and harassment. Make sure your dignity at work procedure includes a phrase pointing out that managers have a right and a duty to manage. If a manager is properly seeking to help and encourage an employee to do his job to the required standard, and it’s done in an appropriate fashion, it does not constitute bullying, harassment or victimisation.

Adopt the Mahatma Gandhi approach (hate the sin, love the sinner) and focus on the facts. This is not about whether we like the employee or not, it’s about whether he can do the job. It will help if you provide clear evidence of poor work performance to support your point. If you’re accused of bullying, ask why the employee thinks he is being bullied. A useful phrase is ’Help me understand why you think I’m treating you less favourably than anyone else who performs at this level?’ Wait politely for the answer. Repeat if necessary. This can help to disperse unwarranted accusations and helps the employee understand that you mean business.

After you’ve had a discussion with the employee, the next stage is to create a performance improvement plan (PIP). Agree and set down precise performance targets which are capable of being measured.