Prospect agreed the approach to performance management for everyone in BT from April 2010 - this is set out in our booklet.
Pressure to force performance ratings is a clear breach of the agreement and abuse of the process. Where this is reported to us by members we are pushing BT hard to stop this wholly negative numbers based approach. In September 2013 we agreed two key documents:
- an escalation process and
- guidance on the use of settlement agreements - formerly known as compromise agreements.
The escalation process clearly states that “performance markings must be fully justified against job standards, objectives and behaviours and that any practice which undermines this eg forced distribution would be appropriate for escalation”. It also confirms that labour turnover ‘forecasts’ in BT will not be translated into specific ‘managed exit’ targets for individual line managers; any practice which could result in targets for ‘managed exits’ or ‘unregretted leaver’ targets would be escalated using this procedure.
At national level Prospect can escalate both case and systemic issues under this process. We raise systemic issues on an anonymous basis ensuring that the identity of the person will not be revealed. We will need to satisfy ourselves that there is validity in the concerns being raised – usually involving a conversation between the individual and an officer of the union. From that we will work out how best to raise whilst ensuring complete confidentiality.
The document on settlement agreements sets out how and when these can be used in performance or sick absence cases. It seeks to deal with the worst abuses of these agreements. If you are offered a settlement agreement contact Prospect immediately for advice.
There's some general advice for members on this page and more detailed advice eg on coaching plans or raising issues about your rating here.
We do see some pressure being put on managers in some areas of the business to deliver an expected distribution of marks or to use the full spread of marks. BT's policy position is that managers should:
Mark for absolute and coach for relative
This means that everyone should have standards and objectives set up front and be marked against those based on the evidence of their performance over the period. That's the mark for absolute bit.
Coach for relative means that if some people are achieving more then let's learn from that and us that to coach others to do things in the same way. And, if the standards need recalibrating do that - but only for the period going forward. The agreement with BT is that people cannot be marked down for their relative performance alone.
Levelling (fairness checking) should be used to check that people have been fairly assessed agsinst the standards, objectives and behaviours. That means checking to ensure that managers have been assessing aginst these on a consistent basis. If there are inconsistencies and perhaps one manager has assessed their team too harshly or leniently then it is appropriate to change marks at that point. However, the reasons for that change must be recorded and be related to the standards that were set up front.
The levelling/Fairness check should also review standards etc for the period going forward. This is where the coach for relative element comes in. By looking at peer performance across teams leaerning points can be identified and used to alter standards for the future.
Sense checks take place at a higher organisational level. Whilst BT does expect senior managers to review the distribution of marks, it also makes clear that different distributions can occur as business performance varies. The BT guidance states that if "there isn't a relationship between the 'natural curve' and business performance, leaders will assess root causes and may adjust". Prospect's very firm view is that if there is a mismatch instead of shoe horning marks to fit, senior managers should spend their time looking at the root casues for any business performance issues. If we hear reports of sense checks being used to drive down marks instead of assessing root causes and adjusting standards going forward then we believe that is a breach of the 'rate for absolute, coach for relative principle' and we will take this up. Indeed, the BT Q&A on this aspect specifically states "We would not re-rate people at a lower rating however, if they had actually met the standards they had been set." It's not good for business either - retrofitting marks won't help address real business challenges; it will damage morale though.
Where we do see any reports of managers being put under undue pressure to deliver a set of marks that aren't justified by the evidence then we continue to push back on this hard.
Meanwhile here is some advice that can help you defend yourself against an unfair mark:
First and foremost, don’t let things drift. If you think a DN mark is unjustified, then you must challenge it. Acting early and with advice from the union there is more chance of either getting the mark changed or stopping a repeat. We know that parts of the company are now looking at patterns of DN marks to identify potential poor performers so acting early can stop you falling into that position.
The process for challenging your mark is to first raise your concerns informally with your line manager, then your second line manager. Do that in writing so you have a record. If still not resolved, then you can use the grievance procedure. Make sure you contact the Helpdesk to ask for help in finalising your grievance. Don’t submit it without first taking advice from the union.
Other useful tips include:
- Always refer back to the standards that should have been set at the start of the year
- use examples of good work to illustrate your performance, don’t wait for your formal performance review to gain feedback
- Ask for feedback on a regular basis – and make sure you put the request in writing
- Have at least quarterly one to ones and check the notes
- Probe alleged weaknesses and ask for examples, facts and figures. Make sure your manager puts an evidence-based and standards-based justification for your rating onto the ePerformance form.
- Your mark should not come as a surprise
- Check who you have been levelled against - peers should be doing broadly similar jobs
- Remember a record must be kept of changes to performance ratings in levelling together with the supporting evidence. So if you’re told your mark was changed at levelling ask for this record.
- Make sure to complete your self-review on ePerformance every quarter and that your line manager knows and reads it.
Some key safeguards in the agreement you can use:
- There are no targets for managed exits
- There must be no forced distribution or quotas for marks
- Standards can be reviewed during the year but revised standards cannot be applied retrospectively – see Q and As at end of the agreement.
- People should not be marked down solely on the basis of their relative/peer to peer performance. If you achieve the standards set then that must be your mark – this is set out on p19 of the agreement
- People should not be marked down just because they are new to a job – see Q and As at the end of the agreement
- If assessed as Development Needed, agree with your manager the areas for improvement and ask for their support to achieve any necessary improvement. Make sure you have a coaching plan – we have put together guidance on this. Deal with any shortcomings identified and gather the evidence that you have done so. Even if you are challenging your mark then you still need to demand a coaching plan and deal with it. Use the lack of a coaching plan as evidence that the mark is unjustified.
- People marked Development Needed can only be put on a PIP (also known as an Initial Formal Warning) if their performance has become unsatisfactory against the standards set, they have had a one to one to that effect and been given a reasonable time to improve.
Make sure everything is in writing. If someone says something to you about your performance but this is verbal and they refuse to confirm in writing one tip is to email confirming your understanding of the discussion. They can then either confirm or refute what was said.
The full text of the agreement is on the right hand side of this page. since the original agreement we have made a number of key additional changes:
- In October 2011 BT confirmed there should be just twice yearly levelling of marks. So, whilst ratings will still will be input for Q1 and Q3 there should be no levelling exercises - we know that has not been followed in some areas and are trying to get this abuse stopped.
- In September 2012 BT confirmed that the current approach of having cumulative quarterly performance ratings will cease and instead we will move to a rating based solely on that person’s performance in that quarter.
- We agreed a guide to levelling in March 2011.
Key safeguards in the agreement:
As part of the levelling process an individual's performance will be compared with their peer group. The peer group should be individuals working on similar roles and objectives. People should not be marked down solely on the basis of their relative performance. Where an individual has met the standards as set by his or her manager the rating will not be changed but the standards, if set too low, will be revised for the period going forward and communicated to the individual.
Development Needed is not the new 'GS'. The Development Needed (DN) category is just that - a category where development needs are identified and addressed in a specific coaching and development plan. If, despite this support, there is evidence of declining performance then someone may be put on a formal Performance Improvement Plan but only if:
• Performance has deteriorated and is unsatisfactory against the standards set at the beginning of the performance cycle;
• the people manager has held a 121 with the individual to explain that performance in unsatisfactory; and
• an individual has been given reasonable time to improve.
As a reflection of the more positive approach agreed in 2010 individuals rated as 'development needed' will no longer be prevented from going into the BTTC unless there are other factors prohibiting this. Previously, people rated as GS were not able to go into the BTTC if they were in a surplus role.
Performance Management Scenarios played out
BT Openreach recently held two conference calls on the Q2 ratings and fairness checks. You can access the full call replays via the links below. Although the main content of both calls was largely the same, the Q&A sessions were different and are worth listening to if you weren’t on the call. It gives some good advice on how performance should be measured.
When you enter the link, select playback, then install using Java, then select run.
You can also take a look at the slides used during the call- they are pasted in the box on the right hand side of this page. The slides show the correct answers to each of the scenarios (Q2 Calibration – Ratings & Fairness Checks).