Use Performance Improvement Plans to Empower Employees

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Dart on dartboardEvery manager has experienced an employee who is under-performing. Goals are not being met. The quality of their work is poor. This can bring down morale for the team and affect the overall goals of the entire organization. No manager really wants to deal with performance issues. However, it’s important and fair for the rest of the team, as well as the underperforming employee, that the issues are addressed and managed effectively.

Before deciding how to manage an underperforming employee, ask yourself a few questions to help determine whether this is a case of underperformance or misconduct, and identify the possible causes of underperformance:

Possible Reasons for an Underperforming Employee

  • Have clear expectations been set?
  • Has the employee received sufficient training?
  • How much of a workload does this employee have?
  • Are there any external factors/influences that may play a part in this issue that warrant consideration?
  • Is communication limited?

Identify and consider as much of the above before planning how to effectively deal with the performance management issues.  Your HR Manager should be able to help you assess if a Performance Improvement Plan would likely help, and if it’s the most appropriate next step for this employee.

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Although each circumstance will vary, misconduct should likely be addressed with corrective disciplinary action. One solution to addressing most of the above causes for underperformance may be a Performance Improvement Plan, or “PIP.”  A PIP is a formal document stating performance issues along with expectations than an employee is required to meet. The PIP should give the underperforming employee a clear plan on how to turn their performance around.

An efficient PIP includes the following:

  • Current Deficiencies – Specific examples of unacceptable performance. Include dates, corresponding data and detailed explanations.
  • Performance Goals/Expectations- Clarify actions that should be taken to meet goals. Align with job description and appropriate policies.
  • Timeline for Improvement – Reasonable timeframe for progress such as a 30, 60, or 90-day deadline. Also include dates for monitoring or progress check-ins.
  • Additional Training and Resources
  • Consequences for not meeting goals

Your HR Manager should be able to assist in creating the PIP and ensuring that the details above are included and illustrated clearly.  However, the direct supervisor or manager is the ideal choice for presenting the PIP to their employee.  Having their manager’s direct communication with the employee is crucial for the success of this process, since this is a formal coaching opportunity for the manager and their direct report. Moreover, there is usually more buy-in from the employee when they’re hearing it from the person directly invested in their success.

You may choose to use either a narrative letter format or a standard template form when creating the PIP; consult with HR on the best format to present to the employee. Ultimately, your HR Manager should review the final version to ensure that the plan is clearly conveying deficiencies, goals, dates and consequences.  When meeting with the employee to discuss the PIP, encourage an open dialogue and input from the employee. Again, this will gain buy-in and commitment from the employee.

Give the employee a copy of the PIP for reference and keep the original in the personnel file (HR).

Finally, follow up and monitor the employee’s performance according to the plan. Meet and review specific goals or improvements to ensure the employee is progressing. Continued improvement should be documented and encouraged. Toward the deadline of the PIP, the employee should meet all the established goals.  If the performance has not improved by the end of plan, consult with your HR Manager on appropriate next steps. Performance Improvement Plans aren’t always the end, and hopefully the employee feels empowered to move forward toward continued success.

Staff One HR assists clients with a myriad of HR issues, including all aspects of employee discipline, documentation, and termination.

Contact the author directly at brandi.sewell@staffone.com.