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Performance management

Performance management

Prospect agreed the BT approach to performance management - this has now been updated from July 2016. There are associated agreed FAQs for the half year and full year rating processes together with agreed guidance on fairness and sense checks.

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 push BT hard to stop this wholly negative numbers based approach. There are also other key documents:

  • an agreed escalation process where Prospect can raise individual or systemmic issues. This has now been updated and the revised version can be found here.
  • guidance on the use of settlement agreements - formerly known as compromise agreements. We have also agreed guidance on the use of settlement agreements in cases concerning ill health, disability or sick absence and can be found here
  • From 2015/16 there are now only six monthly ratings - at the end of Q2 and year end
  • The introduction of new guidance on managing underperformance at the informal stage - introduced in August 2015.

There's more detailed advice on the whole process, tips and raising issues about your rating or informal plans here

For personal advice please contact your local branch or the Helpdesk on 020 8971 6060

Key advice is also here Prospect advice on key aspects of performance management in BT

Escalation Process 

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.

General advice

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 or sense 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. BT's guidance states:

"Sense checks:

  • will consider the distribution of ratings across teams of 100+ against business performance
  • will not force a predetermined or expected distribution of performance ratings (sometimes called ‘forced distribution’)
  • if distribution doesn’t reflect business performance leaders should review the root cause and consider underlying reasons, including external factors. Managers may be asked to review again if they have marked too generously, too harshly or failed to differentiate adequately against the standards set. If standards have been set too low or too high, these need to be recalibrated for the period ahead. Ratings should not be changed to a lower rating, if individuals had actually met the standards they had been set"


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 causes 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.

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 on the HR system.
  • Your mark should not come as a surprise
  • Check who you have been levelled against - peers should be doing broadly similar jobs

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 the FAQs
  • 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
  • People should not be marked down just because they are new to a job – see the FAQs
  • If assessed as Development Needed, agree with your manager the areas for improvement and ask for their support to achieve any necessary improvement. 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 deal with any issues of alleged under performance.
  • See our advice on the informal under performance stage here

 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.