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Measuring staff performance

Measuring staff performance is about reflecting on what your employees do (their work objectives) and how your employees do it (the behaviours they are expected to demonstrate when carrying out their objectives).

Considerations when setting performance measurements

You must ensure that performance measurements do not discriminate against employees because of their:

  • age
  • race
  • sex
  • gender reassignment
  • disability
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity.

A common issue with performance measurements is where an employee with a disability could be disadvantaged.

Example 1: a call centre might partly measure staff performance on how compliant they are to the work schedule for being on the phone. An employee who has a disability that means they have to take frequent toilet breaks, could be unfairly disadvantaged by this unless reasonable adjustments are considered.

Example 2: an employee with autism may have highly-specialised skills that are important to the organisation. However, they may be identified as under-performing if the organisation sets universal objectives and give managers little or no flexibility to adapt them depending upon the needs of the employee.

You must make reasonable adjustments that will remove or minimise any disadvantage. This might require adjusting performance measurements slightly or providing additional support to make the measurements fair.

While it may seem easier to set the same objectives for all staff doing the same role, you should allow managers some flexibility to vary objectives where appropriate.

Setting objectives

Objectives (sometimes called targets or goals) are definable achievements that your employees are expected to accomplish. Objectives should be fair, accurate and reflect the tasks employees actually carry out. They should focus on areas where the employee has control over the outcome.

Job descriptions and team objectives can provide a good starting point in identifying what employees should be reasonably expected to achieve in their roles.

The clearer the performance measurements can be, the smaller the risk that disagreements or claims of unfairness will arise when performance is assessed. 

As a guide, using the SMART objectives framework can provide a useful way to set clear performance measurements.

SMART objectives are:

  • Specific - what exactly does the employee need to do?
  • Measurable - how will the manager and employee know that it has been achieved?
  • Achievable - while it should be challenging, is it something the employee is reasonably capable of achieving?
  • Relevant - does it relate to the needs of the team/department/business?
  • Timebound - when does it need to be achieved by?

Example: If an employer wants staff to answer customer queries as quickly as possible, a SMART objective could be to 'answer all customer queries within two working days'. An employer can then measure whether the employee is meeting their target of two days or not.

For help, download our word icon Tips for setting SMART performance objectives [56kb].

Agree objectives with each employee

Objectives should be agreed between managers and employees. This can help ensure:

  • that measurements are relevant and appropriate to their roles
  • employees understand what is expected of them
  • there is agreement that measurements are reasonably achievable.

If a number of employees carry out similar tasks, it may be better for you to agree common objectives with these groups of employees.

Monitor and review objectives

If any additional tasks or special projects are given to an employee during the year, their manager should discuss and agree with them:

  • additional objectives for this work
  • whether existing objectives should be amended.

Setting behaviours

How an employee carries out their work can be as important as the end result. Behaviours (sometimes called competencies or standards) focus on how an employee should approach the work and duties that their role requires.

Example: a sales reps may have a sales target as their main objective but their employer may also expect them to show:

  • customer care - by building rapport and trust with customers to encourage repeat business even if it means smaller sales initially
  • teamwork - by communicating with the wider team to ensure that orders can be fulfilled as promised.

Like objectives, behaviours should be agreed between managers and staff to ensure they are appropriate to the role and understood.

Example behaviours might include:

  • leadership
  • teamwork
  • customer care
  • promoting equality
  • communicating effectively
  • embracing change.

You should provide staff with clear guidance on how they are expected to demonstrate these behaviours. This could be done by creating a framework setting out positive and negative actions for each behaviour or by providing examples of what the employee is expected to demonstrate.


An employer that wants staff to communicate effectively might explain this behaviour as:

  • speaking clearly and concisely to managers, colleagues and customers
  • actively listening to managers, colleagues and customers and responding politely
  • using appropriate body language and tone of voice whenever talking to managers, colleagues and customers
  • keeping managers and colleagues informed about relevant work.

Performance conversations

Discussing performance should be an essential part of any performance management arrangements.

Having time set aside for a meeting to review performance and agree plans moving forward can ensure that each employee is supported to meet their expected standards of performance.

An employee may consider these meetings to be their only opportunity to talk to their manager about issues they are having in work or at home that are affecting their performance, so managers should be prepared to handle these sort of conversations.     

Meetings should be planned in advance, in private and free from interruptions.

Both the manager and employee should come prepared to discuss:

  • what things have gone well during the year, and what has been more challenging.
  • any concerns or areas where further help may be useful
  • how they have performed against their performance measurements
  • ways to build on their achievements next year.

Remember, these conversations should complement and support your aims for Maintaining effective performance management arrangements.

Example: Performance conversations in an organisation that wants to prioritise staff development should spend:

  • More time on discussing suitable development opportunities and considering the benefits this may bring.
  • Less time on discussing performance ratings or rewards.

For help, download our word icon Tips on approaching a conversation around performance [49kb].

Regular catch-ups

On top of the more formal performance conversations, there should be regular informal catch-ups between managers and their employees. Talking regularly can help managers:

  • identify and keep track of issues
  • acknowledge good work and show that it is valued and appreciated
  • raise potential issues before they become more serious
  • provide the support staff need to improve and/or develop further.

It can also help your employees:

  • feel valued and appreciated for their efforts
  • learn how their performance could be improved
  • feel able to approach managers for support when they need it.

These catch-ups do not have to take up much time. In most situations, they should be short and casual conversations that just check on how things have been going and whether anything could be improved.

Catch-ups can be a good opportunity to raise or follow up on any issues around performance and agree what can be done to support the employee to improve. Remember, there should be no surprises at the end of the year. Therefore issues should be discussed when they arise and not left until a formal performance meeting.

For regular conversations to take place, you should ensure that managers and staff have the time to have catch-ups and not leave them feeling overloaded.

Assessing staff against their performance measurements

The performance of staff should only be assessed (or self-assessed) against the performance measurements previously agreed and set.
Often the performance ratings for staff can be as simple as having 'met' or 'not met' the performance measurements for the role.

If there is a need for a wider range of ratings, for example to pay a higher bonus to the highest performing employees, there should be clear guidance about what each rating means and how they can be achieved.

The scoring of staff is usually decided by their managers who have received training on how to do it fairly and consistently. However, your process could involve the manager:

  • deciding by themselves
  • discussing it with the employee at the formal performance meeting
  • deciding in partnership with another manager

Where there is concern or disagreement about how performance has been assessed, your employee should be encouraged to discuss this with their manager. Talking about it should clarify why they have been scored in this way and allow them to challenge any area they believe to be unfair. If they are still unhappy after raising it with their manager, they should be able to raise the matter with a more senior manager or HR. This can ensure that staff are being assessed fairly, consistently and transparently across the organisation. 

Keeping a record of performance

Keeping a record of your employees' performance can be important. It can:

  • assist discussions between a manager and employee when they have performance-related meetings
  • be used as evidence for promotion or other job opportunities
  • be used as evidence in disciplinary related issues

Employees can worry that records are used as an audit trail in case of disciplinary issues. While it can be tempting to keep detailed records in case of future legal disputes, your records of performance should be appropriate to help you achieve the aims of your arrangements. For further information please see our guidance on How to get performance management right.

arrangements that want to celebrate good work might only require staff to record examples of work that they are proud of or consider to be examples of good performance.

Where concerns around performance arise, a manager may need to keep a record of this outside of the performance arrangements.

In most scenarios, keeping a record of performance should not be a difficult or time-consuming task. It can be online or offline but it needs to be quick and user-friendly. For example:

  • short bullet point examples of how the employee is doing against their performance measurements and
  • a note summarising what was discussed and agreed at each performance-related meeting

Staff and managers should be given training and guidance on how to record performance so it is done consistently across the organisation.  
If there is a specific document or online application that should be used, it should be easy to access and complete.

You can download a word icon Draft record of performance [45kb] and adapt it for your own needs.

Remember, any records of performance must meet the organisation's GDPR (The General Data Protection Regulation) obligations. For more information, go to our guidance on GDPR - The General Data Protection Regulation.

Further tools and training available

Acas offers training courses and e-learning on Performance Management. These are designed for supervisors, managers, team leaders and HR professionals tasked with creating new processes.

View event dates and locations

Access Acas learning online

We can also offer support for any individual issues your organisation may be facing. Find out more about our in-company services or contact us on our online enquiry form to let us know how we can help.