Does your partnership deed address performance?

Justin Cumberlege provides some guidance on how to address under-performing partners, or conduct issues, in a partnership deed

First published in Practice Management in November 2021

With the New to Partnership Payment Scheme anticipated to end in March 2022, a number of GPs are seeking to benefit from the £20,000 payment on becoming a partner of a GP practice.

The £3,000 payment for training is only accessible after they have joined the partnership, so they may find out only too late what being a partner entails, and that they do not want the extra work.

There is no doubt a source of dispute is that a particular partner is ‘not pulling their weight’, leaving the hard work and decision making to other partners, and the practice manager. This builds up resentment. What should be done?

The partnership deed should provide a graded approach to ensure that partners do perform, and to have sanctions for those that do not. Having clear lines of responsibility and personal targets helps to set expectations and provides parameters in which to manage performance.

A performance review offers an early warning signal that things might be going wrong, both for the partner being appraised and the partnership as a whole. The review should be fair and proportionate. Unlike the professional appraisal for revalidation, this review will focus on the participation, management and behaviours in the practice.

It is good to ask one or two staff members to give feedback (without being disclosed to the person reviewed) and one or two other partners. Most importantly, good behaviours should be recognised and encouraged. Second, personal objectives should be proposed, and support offered to achieve them. Third, any negative feedback should be dealt with constructively, and a satisfactory way of addressing it found.

Hopefully, that will result in some self-awareness and prevent a downward slide. Consider a follow-up meeting in three months to review progress.

If the issue is significant, or results in serious allegations, such as bullying or harassment, you may have to consider a further step, which is to suspend the partner while the matter is looked into and space is created to interview the partner in question and affected people.

Keeping an open mind is important. Is this a pattern of behaviour which is progressing? How can it be addressed? Consider seeking assistance from outside if incidents need to be investigated, to provide an objective view, and to agree how to address and resolve them.

The partners may be forced to consider the expulsion of that partner. If the expulsion is on particular grounds, you will have to ensure that your evidence is robust and can be independently verified or corroborated by others, as it may be challenged.

Without a partnership deed, the other partners have only peer pressure to bring an errant partner into line, and no right to suspend or expel them.