CIPD 2010 closing keynote: Performance management a key issue in challenging times

The CIPD 2010 Annual Conference and Exhibition drew to a close with a lively closing keynote and panel discussion chaired by Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy and featuring the CIPD’s John Philpott, Gail Cartmail from the TUC, the BBC’s Lucy Adams and Chris Grayling MP, minister for employment.

Taking place on the same day as the publication of the Government’s benefits reform white paper, it was no surprise that the panel focused on the topic of the work programme that will encourage long-term benefits claimants back to work. Philpott voiced his broad support for the Government’s proposals, but warned that investment will not take place automatically or quickly, and suggested that the country could be in for a “couple of rough years” until it sees the effects of any changes. He also added: “Whatever level of growth and whatever number of jobs are created, we need to ensure they go to the right people – people who have been on benefits for a long time.”

Cartmail was more sceptical, claiming that “The Government’s maths don’t add up. There is a credibility gap between the jobless and the jobs they are supposed to be going into.”

The panel also pleaded for a change in the way that the long-term jobless are portrayed in mainstream media, with all participants agreeing that some commonly used terms and narratives are not helpful in processes such as this one.

Guru-Murthy suggested that a key challenge was that employers are less likely to take on a long-term unemployed person who has repeatedly been called a “scrounger” or “workshy” in the press. Gail Cartmail agreed, saying: “There’s a narrative that we’re wandering down a road looking at ‘claimants’, when we should be talking about job growth, upskilling and support.”

Grayling agreed: “You won’t hear us stand up and say ‘we’re out to duff up the scroungers’; it’s not the way we think.”

Performance management is key

Some of the session’s most interesting comments, however, came from the BBC’s director of people, Lucy Adams, who took part despite the fact that she was awaiting news of whether or not the NUJ had decided to call another strike at the corporation. The recent turbulence at the BBC allowed Adams to give a first-hand account of some of the issues facing HR in organisations affected by change, and she was keen to point out that performance management is a key issue in challenging times. After stressing that she was speaking from a general HR viewpoint rather than as a representative of the BBC, she said: “We can’t afford to avoid performance issues any more. We don’t have the time or money to allow people to perform at mediocre levels. When an employee spends 10 years just being ‘okay’, that’s immoral. But we shouldn’t use redundancy as a performance management tool, it’s about dynamism. We need to reward the really great people and help the people who aren’t succeeding for us to go and succeed somewhere else.”

She added: “Performance management is more dynamic than it was when appraisals were brought in during the ’70s and ’80s. It’s all about clarity – we now need clearer dialogue and feedback.”

She concluded by outlining the different responsibilities facing HR in companies undergoing organisational change, saying: “HR also needs to remove the fear from situations where employees might need to change role, location, or leave the employer altogether.”

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