Verdict unclear on BT’s new PM approach

Verdict unclear on BT’s new PM approach

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

The question as to whether or not BT’s new approach to performance has succeeded in slaying or at least reining in the company’s notoriously resilient performance management demons remains unanswered – despite CWU hopes that the jointly agreed rollout of a new BT-wide ratings system would provide a definitive ‘moment of truth’.

In October every member of staff in BT was labelled ‘Brilliant’, ‘Good’ or ‘Work To Do’ under a new scoring system that has replaced the five former bandings – most notably the discredited ‘Development Needed’ category.

Prior to the exercise both company and union negotiators were in broad agreement that, in order to shift deep-seated perceptions that PM in BT is fundamentally unfair, the number of employees placed in the new ‘Work To Do’ rating needed to be a tiny fraction of the number hitherto placed in the bottom two former categories that it effectively replaces.

The result, however, has been mixed. While in many of BT Group’s smaller divisions the number of individuals in the bottom ratings category has indeed shrink significantly – to well under 5 per cent in most cases – in the largest two lines of business, Openreach and Consumer, the number has remained stubbornly high, albeit down from previous excesses which have twice brought the company to the brink of an industrial action ballot.

Assistant secretary Dave Jukes told The Voice: “It’s a mixed picture, because while the numbers are pretty good in some areas, in Openreach and Consumer they are disappointing. The distribution of ratings in those lines of business is out of kilter with everywhere else.

“Individuals allotted a ‘Work To Do’ rating should, in theory, already be part of a former process, or have been positively told by their manager that their performance is not up to speed – and I cannot believe that there are that many people in those lines of business who are on warnings or whose performance is lacking in some way.

“Given we know there has been forced distribution of ratings in the past, we have to view these figures with some concern.

“That said, however, even in those lines of business, the higher than expected numbers of ‘Work To Do’ ratings doesn’t seem to be translating itself into formal warnings. You could view that as some kind of success…but, given the troublesome history of PM in BT, you can’t help but feel that there might be something just round the corner that puts a very different complexion on things.”

Dave stressed the BT negotiators with whom the CWU has been dealing on the PM issue are similarly perplexed by the figures and that both sides had agreed further investigation was required, the outcome of which will be discussed at the next scheduled meeting in January.

He concludes: “Clearly we need to get to the bottom of what’s happened, as neither the company nor the union want to find ourselves at loggerheads over performance management yet again.

“Even more importantly, for BT’s new approach to performance to be genuinely viewed as a success, our members’ experience at the sharp end needs to be tangibly different from what’s gone before.

“It’s not just a case of ensuring that the sort of abuses that were once rife don’t recur – but instilling a confidence staff that from now on performance issues will be dealt with in a fair and supportive way.

“At present, the jury’s still out on that.”

Members should report any perceived instances of PM abuses to their local branch in the first instance – but feedback from both individuals and branches would be gratefully received by Dave at djukes@cwu.org

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