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Labour law | Managing staff performance becomes more essential in tough times


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By Carol Tissiman

The prime, and often most difficult, job of a manager is not only to lead his/her team, but also to manage individual and team performance.  In tough economic times, we tend to become less tolerant of wasted expenditure, we spend more time controlling our variable costs, and if any assets (including the human assets) do not perform well most business managers will tackle the problem head on. However, many managers are so afraid of losing favour with their employees, or are not experienced enough to entrench good performance management systems, and others are aware that they need to comply with the intricacies of the Labour Law, so may avoid confronting things until it becomes really serious and too late to act.

Interestingly enough, the current Labour Law supports good business practice in this regard, to the extent that paper chainit is unfair to dismiss an employee for poor performance unless sound performance management practices have been followed preceding the dismissal. While it takes some experience, training and development for both employer and employees, there are some key things that will assist managers to manage poor performance well, for the benefit of both the employee and the organisation:

  • Clear, doable job profiles should be set up so that staff members know what they are expected to do, and how their job fits into and contributes to the outputs of their section / department and ultimately the whole organisation.

  • At the start of employment and with any job change or promotion, employees need some induction and job orientation.  This will inform them of the work methods and ethics, rules and culture of the specific job environment.  Important aspects to which they may not have been previously exposed should be covered.

  • When employees are given clear instructions and coaching (which means that they are empowered with insight and the practical exposure as early as possible in the presence and with support of experienced staff or supervisors) they are more likely to meet their employer’s expectations.

  • Both informal and formal, regular feedback and appraisal will indicate to employees how they are doing, so that they can monitor and agree on the own levels of performance against the employer’s expectations.labour law advert

  • When these processes have been followed, and performance continues to be poor or unsatisfactory, take appropriate corrective steps (including discipline if appropriate).  This means, for example, that simply sending an employee on a training course, or asking a fellow employee to “watch what Joe does” will not necessarily improve performance.  The performance problems need to be correctly analysed and understood, so that the employee can also commit to taking appropriate action, and the employer can allocate suitable resources, which will facilitate the required learning or improvement.

  • When considering reward and recognition for good performance, (and therefore by default punishment for poor performance!) managers need to be careful not to simply create a community of compliant or dependent staff members that do not fully contribute with a sense of ownership or accountability for their actions.


Carol Tissiman is a professional HR Consultant, and the course convener for the UCT (Law@Work) Practical Labour Law Course. The course introduces the key areas of applicable South African Labour Law and focuses on the practical application of good business practice, procedure and governance in the workplace.  The course aims to assist participants to get the best out of staff and to avoid the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and Labour courts in the future.


Back to SmartyPants Newsletter - February 2010 Edition
This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution license.


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