The spotlight has fallen on the issue of ageism in recent days with the news that horse racing pundit John McCririck is suing Channel 4 for alleged age discrimination. McCririck, 72, was sacked by the broadcaster in October 2012 without, he claims, “any consultation or cogent explanation”. 

According to a report in HR Magazine, he is now seeking £3 million in damages and compensation for loss of future earnings, unfair damage to his career, public humiliation, stress and mental anguish.

EEI HR Director Caroline Gumble has joined the debate, suggesting that there is a clear link to performance management. Ageism cases could rise, she claims, if employers don’t tighten up on their performance management procedures.

Interviewed in HR Magazine she says: “If a person has the energy, skills and knowledge to do a job, then age is completely irrelevant. So in terms of this, I can see where he might have a case. If you are looking to remove someone from your organisation then it has to start with a conversation and must be fair and objective. Companies must tackle performance issues properly and be a lot hotter on their performance management, else cases of ageism, such as this, will be more common.”

Few would argue that she has a point. Performance issues, whether related to age or not, often escalate because managers are reluctant to initiate what they fear might be a ‘difficult’ conversation with an employee. They are not quite sure what they can or can’t say, are worried about what to do if a member of staff becomes angry or emotional – and as a result often take the easy way out and simply sweep the problem under the carpet.

There is a key point, however, which seems to have been missed out in this whole debate. Performance management shouldn’t only be about pulling people up when they are not performing as well as the business thinks they should. It’s not just about defusing risk by making sure appropriate conversations take place and are properly recorded to cover the employer in the event of any future dispute.

Performance management is also about the opportunity to support people and encourage them to develop so that they can make a real contribution to the future growth of the business. The best HR software can help with regular appraisals or informal check-ins to give managers the opportunity to make sure their people are clear about where the business is headed and how their personal contribution can make a real difference to the bottom line. It’s a chance to make sure people know what their priorities are – and to tweak those priorities on a regular basis as the needs of the business demand.

Performance management is also a two-way process. It gives employees the opportunity to highlight areas where they would particularly like to develop or to raise alarm bells if they are not able to achieve their targets because an unreasonable amount is being asked of them or they are not properly equipped for the tasks they are being called upon to perform.

Good performance management is about open, honest communication and about managers making sure they are supporting their teams so they can do the best possible job. Of course easy-to-use and cost-effective performance management software is now available to help managers ensure performance conversations take place regularly and that whatever is agreed gets recorded.

The technology can help ensure that promised support or development doesn’t get forgotten and actually takes place – but it cannot replace the conversations managers need to have with their people on a regular basis.

Managers need to get more comfortable with the idea of constructive dialogue which can help them see how all employees can make their maximum contribution, wherever they might be on the age spectrum. Those who are prepared to invest time and effort in managing performance properly will see real dividends in terms of improved productivity and ultimately profits.

What’s your view? Are we failing to make the most of the positive side of performance management? Let us know what you think.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.