Opinion: Third Voice - We need a better way to tackle underperformance

Cathy Dean, a self-employed fundraiser in Sheffield

Alan Sugar's robust management style has become familiar as a result of The Apprentice and the selection of Michelle Dewberry as the winner.

But what message might it have for HR in the voluntary sector?

The Today programme recently interviewed two entrepreneurs, who agreed that the programme was excellent TV but a poor advert for good management practice: the brutal Alan Sugar approach was not their way of doing business.

Adam Balon, co-founder of smoothie makers Innocent Drinks, talked about the way his company liked a more informal work environment, in which staff could feel relaxed and creative. He was asked about the way he would deal with someone he wanted to dismiss. He said that for the sake of the business as well as the individual involved, if someone was underperforming he would have a conversation with that person about the way they did not fit and talk about how there might be better opportunities elsewhere.

Saying "you're fired" was not part of his management style.

All this seems very gentle and sensible in comparison with The Apprentice, but is a world away from the HR advice usually given to the voluntary sector.

There is no way that such a sensible conversation can take place without it being seen as potential for a case of constructive dismissal, with lawyers and industrial tribunals a looming threat.

Neither are charities able to offer enhanced redundancy payouts to ease the situation. Instead, they are obliged to go through lengthy, heavily documented procedures or even resort to a full restructuring in order to deal with one person - who, for whatever reason, does not fit in with the organisation. The priorities and workload of the organisation might have changed, and the individual may have changed or never have really fitted with the job in the first place.

Because an ordinary, humane conversation cannot take place, each side begins to demonise the other and individuals can end up feeling tormented and completely undermined - not a good way to feel when you start to look for another job, and not a good environment for the rest of the staff .

Some charity managers may well envy the freedom of smoothie makers, even if they are unlikely to follow the full Alan Sugar management style.

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