“The force is strong with this one” – Star Wars lessons in performance management

The story of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader in Star Wars is a great example of failures in performance management:

1. Boy with huge potential (Anakin) is recruited by large organisation (the Jedi)
2. Boy is given induction training and mentored by senior manager (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
3. Boy’s performance and dedication to the job begins to waiver
4. Senior manager fails to respond to the warning signs and manage the situation effectively
5. Boy turns into Darth Vader, joins a competitor (the Sith and the Dark Side) and seeks to destroy the organisation.

Whilst employees are unlikely to turn into Darth Vader, the possibility of an employee with potential becoming an obstacle to the success of a company, in terms of performance issues, is a real one. An employee who is dedicated, good at their job and keen to develop is an asset to a business, whereas an employee who regularly makes mistakes, is rude to customers or is unwilling to do certain tasks, can hamper your business development.

So what did Obi-Wan do wrong?

1. He failed to note the warning signs
2. He failed to have “difficult conversations” early enough
3. He failed to manage performance effectively.

In terms of spotting the warning signs, employers need to observe their employees. Is the employee starting to turn up to work late, to make mistakes, to ignore tasks that need doing? If yes, a conversation needs to be had with the employee in order to try and nip the problem in the bud. Ignoring the situation is unlikely to make it go away. This can be done informally, by having a closed door conversation regarding your concerns, exploring any reason behind the behaviour and reminding the employee of your realistic expectations (being careful to keep a note of that conversation).

Alternatively, or if things don’t improve, you can put in place a performance improvement plan (PIP) or attendance improvement plan (AIP), depending on the issue. This is simply a process of addressing concerns, setting a realistic target for improvement and then reviewing whether the target has been met, based on the evidence gathered.

Sanctions for non-achievement of the targets can move through different warning stages, but care must be taken to use a fair procedure, including a reasonable investigation, a meeting and the right of appeal at each stage.

Handled badly, performance management could give grounds for constructive dismissal or even discrimination in certain situations. However, fail to handle it at all, and you could turn an Anakin asset into a Darth Vader of an employee.

If you have any queries or concerns regarding performance management issues or need a performance improvement plan putting in place, please contact us.

Claire Collinge
Partner, Workwise Legal LLP