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Etienne Pretorius leads the Employment & Labour Law Department at Bev Loubser Attorneys and has provided the content in this article in response to a question raised in South Africa | 16th July 2020.

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Tags: #loubserattorneys #employment #labour #employers #performance #goodperformer #poorperformer #measuringperformance #managingperformance #performancemanagement #SMART #jobdescriptions #KPI #metrics #standards #targets #performanceappraisal #policy #procedure #guidelines #discipline #disciplinary #conduct #coaching #objectives #attitude #Schedule8 #LRA #rules #warning #conform #addvalue


Good performance isn’t something an employer always recognises or acknowledges. Employers are often taking the employee for granted and then wonder why they lose them to the competition. One of the key areas for maintaining motivation levels of an employee who consistently performs well is by measuring and managing performance. This will normally highlight the poor performer and distinguish the good performer. The only thing more powerful than a good attitude within a team is a bad attitude.[1] Therein lies the subject of this article. If the employer leaves the poor performer to continue as they are then it removes the incentive to perform efficiently and compromises the good performer’s motivation so that they deteriorate to mediocrity.

Performance measurement and management is critical, making it possible to correct poor performance. At a basic level, there are three aspects of effective performance management: planning performance, supporting performance and reviewing performance. [2]

The planned performance provides SMART [3] objectives and establishes them as a shared view or expectation between the employer and the employee. These are often communicated via job descriptions, key accountabilities, performance standards, specific objectives or targets and essential competencies. A shared view of performance needs to be clear, understood and acknowledged. [4]

Supporting performance requires access to information, systems, tools and sometimes even training. Coaching may be required if the employee is struggling to orientate or execute the objectives. The expectation to perform must remain steadfast, however, it is often expedient of the employer to provide support and guidance to help turn the flywheel of productivity. Sometimes, if the employee seems to be a round peg in a square hole, they should be evaluated and moved within the company.

Ongoing review of performance, using a performance management policy and guideline, lets everyone know how effective are the aspects of performance and helps to identify any improvement in performance. Performance appraisal systems can be used, but have traditionally remained poorly designed. This is because they are sporadic, done annually linking them to salary increases and done by managers who see no value in them. The best performance appraisal is done regularly and linked to objectives on a regular basis, e.g. a daily production target. A good appraisal system can be found being used within one of the big banks in South Africa. The appraisal is done to measure frontline service and is done weekly or monthly. The system is easy to use measuring 1 to 5 on a list of key criteria. This eliminates the error of recency and provides an average view of good days and bad. It often eliminates any relational bias between an employee and their manager.

There are, however, times when the performance levels are not recoverable. If that poor performance is due to attitude, then the behaviour needs to be adjusted using the disciplinary code and should be compliant with Schedule 8 of the Code of Good Practice: Dismissal of the Labour Relations Act (Act 66 of 1995). [5] Item 3(2) of Schedule 8 requires that discipline is done progressively. All employers “should adopt disciplinary rules that establish the standard of conduct required of their employees. The form and content of disciplinary rules will obviously vary according to the size and nature of the employer’s business.” (Item 3(1)). Those standards of conduct should be clear and made available to employees in a manner that is easily understood. Item 3(2) of Schedule 8 says that efforts “should be made to correct employees’ behaviour through a system of graduated disciplinary measures such as counselling and warnings.” Therefore, employers should use discipline consistently and start with counselling measures, or at most a verbal warning (recorded in writing for file).

By being consistent in the way poor performers are managed, the employer does not compromise any social contract with the team achievers. They will have grounds to exit those who don’t conform and will retain those who add value.


[1] Maxwell, JC The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork – Embrace Them and Empower Your Team (Thomas Nelson Inc, Nashville Tennessee USA, 2001) p108.

[2] Torrington D, Hall L and Taylor S Human Resource Management Fifth Edition (Pearson Education Limited, 2002) p298.

[3] SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based

[4] Torrington D, Hall L and Taylor S Human Resource Management Fifth Edition (Pearson Education Limited, 2002) p297.

[5] Schedule 8 of the Code of Good Practice: Dismissal of the Labour Relations Act (Act 66 of 1995).

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