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Guidance for line managers

Performance management – key guidance for line managers

Tips on how to ensure fairness in the performance management process, and how to address pressure from above to impose forced distribution. Above all, act early and get advice from Prospect.

pocket-size guidance leaflet for managersMany Prospect members will be expected to operate the civil service performance management procedure in their capacity as line managers. Being expected to deliver a forced distribution of marks puts pressure on them.

It can be difficult to stand up to this, especially if you feel isolated or have faced threats that failure to comply will affect your own performance rating or lead to you being put on a poor performance procedure.

Experience in other Prospect sectors shows that challenging such pressures can be effective.

Training and evidence are crucial

Line managers should:

  • Ensure you are trained to conduct performance appraisals, including equality training, to ensure fair and consistent treatment of all staff being appraised.
  • Take time to satisfy yourself that agreed objectives are 'specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed' (SMART) and are within the control of the postholder to achieve.
  • Work with the postholder to ensure that any identified development needs are addressed, preferably in good time to provide evidence of outcomes.
  • Ensure that your assessments are evidence-based and recorded in writing.
  • Challenge any aspects of the performance management procedure, including validation, that are unclear or appear to foster unfairness or inconsistency.
  • Make sure to keep an audit trail of any queries you raise and the responses you receive.
  • Ensure you are also trained to manage performance improvement processes if called upon to do so.

Challenging forced distribution

If you are asked to allocate performance rating according to a forced distribution, consider:

  • Explaining that if performance rankings become disconnected from individuals' actual performance, genuine performance problems can't be addressed effectively.
  • Asking for the instruction to be put in writing.
  • If the pressure continues, email the person concerned confirming the content of the conversation and putting the onus on them to respond.
  • Reminding an appropriate senior manager that forcing marks without evidence could constitute harassment and bullying, which could lead to disciplinary action.
  • Asking what stance the organisation will take if a member of staff makes a complaint about actions taken by you to comply with the organisation's requirement to achieve a forced distribution of performance marks.

Remember that you are not alone: make sure you raise this issue with your Prospect workplace representative or full-time officer. Prospect will pursue any such instances with the employer, while protecting confidentiality.