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Managing the performance of PR staff

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

If you are a PR manager, how can you get better performance from your staff? And if you are a PR officer, what should you expect from your boss? If you know good techniques for performance management, you can get better results.

Performance management is a poorly handled role everywhere. For instance, a Watson Wyatt Worldwide national US survey in 2004 of 1200 employees found that 90% of respondents participated in a performance management program, but only 30% said their organisation’s program actually led to improved performance. 1

Only 20% said their company helped poorly performing workers improve. And only 39% could see the connection between their day-to-day work and corporate goals. On a more positive note, around 40% said their system established clear performance goals or generated honest feedback.

It is difficult for many PR managers to find out the most effective ways of managing the performance of their staff because it is difficult to find satisfactory KPIs to use. KPIs are repeated activities that can be measured from one period to the next. Many PR activities have intangible or complex outcomes or are not repeated actions that can be compared from one period to the next, which is the fundamental requirement for KPIs. This makes it difficult to identify suitable KPIs for PR practitioners.

In view of all this, most PR KPIs tend to relate to stakeholder opinions canvassed from one period to the next.

Research shows that the best supervisors informally monitor the performance of their staff during their daily duties and give 50% more feedback about their work than poor supervisors do. The worst supervisors tend not to give feedback to the individual until they are obliged to in an uncomfortable formal review. So the moral is there – give frequent feedback!

A key issue to understand is that performance reviews and pay reviews should be mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, in most organisations the employee’s performance review and pay review are conducted in the same meeting. This is completely counter-productive because it creates an adversarial environment – with the employee trying to convince the boss that he or she performs miracles and deserves a maximum rise while the boss tries to find arguments, such as finding fault with the employee’s performance, to minimise a pay increase.

Performance reviews should be conducted independently of pay reviews. They should be held at quarterly intervals at the start and could extend to every six months if both parties consider this to be appropriate later. Set the next review date during the previous review and never change it. Performance reviews are supremely important to employees. If the boss changes the date – invariably a delay – it sends a dreadful signal to the employee. Employees will agonise in a paranoid state over the many possible reasons for the delay of a review and will usually fear the worst. Don’t let them down!

The boss is essentially the person’s performance coach. The broad thrust of the performance review meeting should be along the lines of the boss asking, “How can I help you to do your job more effectively?” as the two parties work through their discussion agenda.

The discussion agenda at a performance review should:

  1. Update the staff member’s personal details, eg home address and telephone number (15-20% of people change address every year).

  2. Review the staff member’s job title, and review their job description, line by line, and jointly identify any changes in the role that need to be shown on an amended job description.

  3. Establish the key successes – review the job description line by line, identify where the objectives have been met and clearly establish the extent to which they have added value to the organisation.

  4. Review the key performance indicators to:

    • ensure they are still relevant,

    • determine that the way of measuring them is still valid

    • determine how the staff member performed in relation to the KPIs

    • determine whether any skills training is required or whether more resources could be applied to help that person improve their KPI results.

  5. Identify the key challenges – only after completing the previous step should the areas of below-expected performance be addressed. Identify what factors are contributing to those problems and develop a strategy for dealing with them.

  6. Complete the performance review record by entering the information from the above steps, using the job description as a reference.

  7. Sign off – once the performance review record has been updated and agreed by both parties, the staff member signs the document, which is included in their personnel file

The staff member should always be involved in the construction and regular updating of their job description – it gives them a greater sense of ‘ownership’ of their job.

The person’s review would also include several short-to-medium-term objectives of activities that are significant but not repeated, eg ‘Complete the promotional plan for the new plant by 10 June’ and ‘Learn how to operate Microsoft Access to a competent level by 30 September’. Professional development activities would be included here, eg ‘Attend PRSA issues management workshop’.

Dealing with poor performers

One thing that should be understood is that poor performers are not nearly as prevalent as mythology may make out. Actual numbers of poor performers are well below the levels perceived by other employees. When there is a poor performer, they have a greater nuisance and irritant effect on other employees, which tends to magnify perceptions of the extent of the problem.

How can performance management be effective? In a consistent and firm way. Where there is a poor performer, managers need to show commitment to due process that all their employees can perceive. Performance management should be more an ongoing dialogue rather than merely a formal review. With such a dialogue, it is likely that the problem will be addressed early rather than being allowed to fester. All employees must be made aware of the processes in place to address poor performance, not just poor performers themselves. The more that employees understand these processes, the more confidence they will have in management to deal with any problems. 2

Staff member KPIs

A key performance indicator is an outcome. It describes what would happen if the staff member succeeded in fulfilling that particular role. A KPI is not merely a PR activity. It is an outcome for the business that having you on staff is supposed to deliver.

Each person should have up to five KPIs of repeated, measurable activities that support the goals of their workplace. It is virtually impossible to accomplish more than five well-constructed KPIs. If more than five can be found for an individual then they are most likely to be subsets of larger KPIs. An individual’s KPIs could stem from the PR branch’s KPIs as outlined in earlier in this chapter.

Key performance indicators can be best reached by asking questions like:

“Is the proposed KPI an outcome?”
“Are we doing the tasks to produce the outcome?”
 “Whatever else happens, you must…”
“At the end of the day, the things that must happen in your job are…”

Individuals’ KPIs are measurable either by report or survey. A measure must indicate how, how often and to what level an activity has been performed, eg

Six monthly stakeholder satisfaction survey shows at least 75% positive response.
Quarterly evaluation report on extent of positive media coverage.
Monthly report on PR stationery stocks showing stock levels at least 50%.
Quarterly running review and update of PR strategy plan completed.
Monthly report on corporate advertising committed against budget shows no budget over-runs.
Monthly employee publication contains agreed proportions of content on organisational strategy, human interest, local production achievements, safety results and staff promotions.



  1. Watson Wyatt Worldwide. “US workers say performance management programs are not improving performance.” Part of ‘WorkUSA 2004: an ongoing study of employee attitudes and opinions’. Retrieved from

  2. Agnew, Tom. “Dealing with poor performers.” Hay Insight Connections, volume 4, issue 3, November 2005. Retrieved from

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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