“Could do better – do your employees have the right AMO?”

Years after Boxall and Purcell (2003) argued that increasing individual performance was a matter of Ability, Motivation, and Opportunity (AMO), an examination of high profile cases that have been unfortunate enough to end up before an employment tribunal has illustrated that this premise still holds true. The need to effectively manage employee performance has never been greater with the abolition of tribunal fees following a challenge from Unison, who argued that such fees were unlawful. It is important that organisations adopt a pro-active rather than reactive approach and take steps to ensure that employees are provided with the right AMO to give their best at work. Key to this is creating an organisational setting that makes employees feel safe rather than threatened, and takes into account individuals’ needs and desires and how these might be aligned with organisational objectives. To achieve this, employers should to ensure best practice in the following areas:

  1. Policies and procedures

You organisational policies are an explicit guide on what is expected from employees and these can be very useful in situations of ambiguity. Be sure to have policies that outline clear behavioural standards expected from organisational members, and procedures to be taken when an employee’s behaviour is in conflict with these. Policies and procedures should be created and reviewed on a periodic basis with the involvement of various organisational stakeholders (e.g. senior management, HR department, line managers, and employees, trade unions) to make sure that the proposed actions and standards are realistic, relevant, and unbiased.

  1. Communication

It is one thing to create policies around expectations for employees’ behaviour and performance, however if employees are unaware of these, then such policies are essentially ineffective. It is not enough to have key policies located on a remote corner of an office portal or website.  Instead, policies should be clearly communicated across the entire organisation, and recorded in an easily accessible location. Moreover, employees should be kept in the loop about any changes or updates, and where there is a lack of clarity surrounding new developments, managers should be willing to have a discussion at an individual level. It is important that communication flows two ways in the organisation, and that employers are truly listening to employees and taking their concerns and suggestions into account when taking action.

  1. Organisational culture

Do you have an organisational culture that encourages open communication, delegation of tasks, and collaboration and support from colleagues, or does it encourage fierce competition, inappropriate banter, micro-management, and top-down authoritarian leadership? Too often the daily experience of the employee is in direct conflict with the policies and values that employers claim to champion. Employers should go out of their way to demonstrate the behaviours that they expect from their workforce, and be positive role models for those under their charge. In addition to demonstrating expected behaviours, demonstrating or communicating how discouraged behaviour is dealt with should also be a priority to send a strong message. 

  1. Training and individual support

As the business context continually changes, with developments in technology, constantly changing client/customer demands and changing regulations, training and support should be readily available to employees. While mandatory training workshops or courses are useful for communicating recent changes, more targeted training also sends a strong message that employers are interested in the future development of individual employees. Training is a key strategy tool as it helps to address underperformance, which in many cases is due to a lack of capability in a specific area. Moreover, it motivates employees, and offers organisation an internal pipeline of talent to fill higher positions. The performance appraisal is the perfect opportunity to identify specific or desired training needs.

  1. Managerial Support

We’ve all heard the saying People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers’, and some of us would have had direct experience of this. You can have the best most well-intentioned policies however if they are communicated ineffectively then these are made redundant. When tackling people-related issues, employers must have the right person in place for the job, and make sure that this person is willing and able to perform the role that he/she has been asked to perform. While line managers are often the most obvious pick to conduct performance reviews because of their proximity to the employee, one must consider whether these individuals are equipped with the right people management skills to address sensitive issues, or deliver constructive feedback. A performance appraisal that was meant to motivate an employee can have the opposite effect if the process is handled poorly.

If careful attention is given to the above areas, then organisations can reduce the likelihood to ending up before the courts, which often results in loss of reputation, time and other organisational resources.

Author: Dr. Rochelle Haynes, HR Consultant, Senior Lecturer, University of Lincoln