Improving performance: a case study

Improving performance

Ensuring that your line managers actively manage their teams’ performance levels is a critical challenge for every business.

This case study illustrates a typical situation which our team helps solve for many different types of client, regardless of whether they are a  manufacturing business or any other type of organisation.

The challenge

The overall productivity of this manufacturing business needed to be improved significantly. Failure to do so put at risk the future of the entire site. Production was too slow and quality not sufficiently and consistently high. The parent company had commissioned consultants to advise on these issues and it all came down to line managers not being sufficiently enabled to manage performance properly or willing to see this as a key aspect of their roles.

Performance quality across the workforce, particularly Production and Sales staff, was of varied and patchy quality and woefully unmanaged by line managers. They were not being properly measured, incentivised or held accountable for their performance. Furthermore, their line managers were not being properly held accountable for the task of delivering or ensuring quality in their teams.

The future viability of the site depended on being able to demonstrate significant improvement in its productivity and performance. A major change was required to turn performance around and apply focus and accountability.


Production in particular was hindered by operating under an old-fashioned industrial culture of powerful trade union reps, out-dated approaches to pay and performance, and a “then and us” attitude by many. Problems included:

  • A workforce and trade union assumption of being automatically entitled to annual pay increments without being required to demonstrate improvements or increases in productivity, which provided little incentive for the workforce to ‘up their game’.
  • Line managers were not leading performance management: they thought that was HR’s responsibility.
  • Line managers were fearful and avoidant of active performance management – it was easier to keep their heads down than tackle colleagues’ performance.
  • Union resistance to robust management of poorly performing employees was considerable.
  • The company’s performance/capability process – agreed many years ago with the trade union – was too long and drawn out. It could take up many months to go through process to dismiss a poorly performing employee.

What needed to happen?

Substantial improvements needed to be made to the approach and attitude towards individual and team performance, which would then start to bear fruit in productivity and quality figures.

To achieve these substantial improvements, there needed to be some fundamental changes to culture, contractual terms of employment, policy, procedure and the attitude of line managers towards driving high performance.

What did Menzies Law do?

We have a great partnership with the company’s HR Director and we helped her draw up a plan. We agreed that it wasn’t simply a matter of redrafting policies: the answer lay in changing the performance culture of the company. We worked with her to map out the plan and get ‘buy-in’ from the rest of the senior management team.

This was the plan:
  • Cultural change: moving to an expectation across all levels of management that sustained high performance was required at all times, with any indications of poor performance being actively managed and swiftly addressed, as a matter of course. This would also require buy-in from the union.
  • Contractual change: replacement of the existing pay policy and union agreement with discretionary performance-related pay increases instead, where individual employees’ performance merited it. This was a fundamental change to the workforce’s terms of employment and again required buy-in from the union, given the union recognition agreement and the fact that all Production workers’ terms and conditions were covered by collective bargaining.
  • Policy change: a large amount of personal and departmental performance data would now be collected, analysed and monitored and would be linked to pay.
  • Procedural change: a revised Capability Procedure would be developed to provide HR and the line managers with a better range of tools for tackling poor performance. The process for performance warnings and eventual dismissal was shortened and made far more practicable.
  • HR practice change: HR would not only be empowered with better tools to tackle poor performance but would actively work with line managers to shift ownership of performance management away from HR and back to the line managers, where it belonged.
  • Line management change: the line managers would be training and empowered to understand that active performance management was their personal responsibility and their own performance in this area of their managerial duties was now a key accountability for them. Managing performance was to change from a re-active step when poor performance is noticed to a pro-active championing of excellence at all times, with plenty of support and professional development where teaching staff required assistance.
So, how did we contribute to achieving the plan?

We started with our specialist employment lawyers applying the necessary legal fixes to the employment contracts and the relevant policies and procedures. This included us identifying and removing the contractual terms and policy content which were in conflict with the aim of ensuring consistently high performance and the active management of poor performance. Out went all the aspects that permitted, or even rewarded, a lack of interest in maintaining excellent performance and in came terms that focussed both staff and their line managers on individual performance and provided positive and clear rewards for excellence and improvement.

Our specialist trade union lawyers supported the HR Director in handling the trade union during a challenging consultation process, providing the legal advice and the strategic and tactical support she needed in order to push through the agreements and commitments needed for the changes to happen.

With our support, the company improved its performance data gathering and made much more effective use of data for monitoring and managing staff. A database was established to link personal performance, attendance, annual appraisals and other data directly to individual staff pay.

By helping build the resilience and confidence of the HR team in handling capability and performance issues robustly, we supported the shift of ownership of performance problems away from HR and back to line managers.

Our Learning & Development contribution for the managers focused on how to manage a team with confidence. Our L&D services include a key skills for managers programme, which provide the staff management and employment law essentials for all those in leadership. A critical element of the programme is to develop confidence in having honest conversations with staff about performance.

Finally, having supported the company to put all these changes in place, the last challenge was to get the staff to work to the new contracts, policy and procedures. Our employment lawyers provided day-to-day back-up and advice to the HR team in handling the range of employee relations that naturally arose.

The changes to the pay policy, unsurprisingly, not universally appreciated by all staff, and our employment tribunal litigators successfully defended an Employment Tribunal claim against the company from one employee who didn’t meet the new performance requirements for a pay increase. This success gave the company’s HR team additional confidence for managing the new pay regime.

Outcomes for our client

The changes have been a great success. There has been a ‘sea change’ in the attitude of staff towards their own performance and the part they play in the overall productivity rates for the business.

Shop floor operatives now have a full understanding of their targets and where that fits in to the wider picture of the company’s overall performance.

Operatives are taking more responsibility, their line managers are freed up to focus on wider departmental objectives and the site’s future seems much more secure.


For more information on how Menzies Law can help your business, please contact

Luke Menzies, Director

0117 325 0921


Improving performance