As I’ve often said, performance management is an ongoing process not just an annual event. As such, when there’s a performance issue it’s important to deal with it in a timely manner. The goal should be – if possible – to turn the situation around and get the employee back on track versus terminating them. This requires a plan. Here are some tips for developing an effective Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).
- Keep detailed documentation. When it’s clear that there’s an issue – the employee is regularly late, absent without an excuse, or submitting sloppy/incomplete work, for example – note the dates and description of the incidents. This will document a pattern of poor behavior and will serve as a backup in the event of a legal dispute down the road.
- Have an informal performance discussion. Hopefully you are having regular one-on-ones with your employees. If so, that is the perfect time to clarify expectations and alert the employee that there’s an issue. Give the employee the opportunity to explain and to offer ideas for a solution. It may be that the issue could be resolved by a change in work schedule or additional training. Be sure to share the impact of the employee’s under-performance and that without improvement, the next step will be a formal PIP.
- Create the plan. If the performance doesn’t improve after the initial performance discussion, it’s time to create a formal PIP. The plan should clearly describe the expected behaviors and specific goals – with deadlines – for achieving those behaviors. Goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Establish a reasonable timeline for the behavior change – long enough to determine whether the behavior change can be sustained, but short enough to take the next step (possible termination) before other people/processes are impacted by the poor performance.
- Obtain employee’s agreement and signature. It’s essential that the employee commit to the goals on the plan. If possible, co-create the goals. If the employee feels they’ve had the opportunity to provide input to the plan they are more likely to follow it. As part of your documentation process, and to reinforce the formality of the PIP, get the employee’s signature.
- Monitor performance. As part of the plan, schedule regular check-ins to discuss progress. Acknowledge any progress, and also remind the employee that you are looking for sustained improvement.
- Formally close out the plan. If the employee fails to meet the expectations defined in the plan, the next step is determining whether termination is appropriate. If the employee follows the plan and shows the expected improvement, acknowledge that improvement and close out the plan. If the employee makes a good effort but doesn’t complete all the goals or you are unsure whether the performance will be sustained, you may want to extend or create a new PIP.
When it comes to Performance Improvement Plans, prevention is the best medicine. You will have fewer PIPs to write if you deal with performance issues in a timely manner, keep lines of communication open with your employees through regular one-on-ones, and are consistently clear about performance expectations.