Dos and Don’ts of the Performance Improvement Process

As a manager, it’s probably not the first – or last – time you will need to meet with an employee to discuss a lack of performance, or to remedy unfavorable patterns you see around the workplace. While it’s always important to remain professional and provide a sense of dignity to any employee undergoing a performance improvement plan, there are plenty of things to think about when creating, explaining and implementing the plan.

What does a performance improvement plan entail and how do you present it to an employee? First, you need to spend some time documenting the patterns or lack of performance by an employee in order to create the plan – only after you see where the issues are can you determine what steps or goals need to be met to boost production and performance. It’s important to note that a performance improvement plan – also known as a PIP – is not generally used as the final step before a termination. In fact, it’s designed to bring issues to light for the employee and allow them to make necessary steps to improve, or at least let them know that further disciplinary action will take place if measureable goals or objectives aren’t met in a timely manner.

Documenting the actions or patterns of an underperforming employee is very important – but it’s also crucial to stay neutral with the findings. After gathering the facts or evidence, be sure to have the report reviewed by an appropriate member of Human Resources to ensure that the report is objective and that any goals set forth within the PIP are obtainable.

Some key points, or dos, to include in a performance improvement plan include:

  • Gather pertinent details and facts – Always be sure to state specific details before presenting the PIP. Evidence needs to be gathered to back up the findings rather than using heresy or speculation from other managers or team members. For example, include the date and time an action occurred and relevant facts that took place because of the situation.
  • Stay consistent – For the sake of the entire team, show consistency with disciplinary actions. Don’t put an employee on a performance improvement plan for tardiness if you let other employees get away with it. Consistency with policy is essential for all employees and managers to follow in order to create a positive work environment.
  • Allow the employee to respond – During the performance improvement plan meeting, be sure to allow the employee to respond to the facts or details and provide an explanation. While the explanation might not change the reasons surrounding the PIP, it could offer insight as to why a decrease in job performance is taking place. Opening up the communication between managers and employees is one of the most effective ways at creating a motivated and engaged environment.

While it might be an uncomfortable situation to begin with, the purpose of the performance improvement plan is to help the employee get back on track and in good standing within the company. Approaching an employee with critiques is a difficult part of any management role, but should always be done with dignity and professionalism. Think about ways in which to communicate with an employee – calling them into the office to blast out a laundry list of things they’re doing wrong is probably not the most effective way at getting them to want to listen and improve. One of the best ways to communicate bad news is to balance it out with something they do well — point out where they excel so they are more receptive to your message and willing to accept constructive criticism. Here are some don’ts to watch out for when it comes to a performance improvement plan:

  • Don’t leave the report open to interpretation – Details within the report – starting from the facts and evidence to the measureable objectives and milestones you want the employee to meet – should be written clearly and concise. Be sure to include what the following steps are should the employee fail to meet the goals in the PIP.
  • Don’t make it personal – Using language of a personal or emotional manner should always be avoided. Keep the improvement plan based on facts and goals only – anything aside from that could be viewed as inappropriate by outside parties.
  • Don’t forget to have the employee sign the plan – A signature is proof you’ve gone over the plan with the employee, and it should be placed in the appropriate file for referral throughout the proposed milestones.

A performance improvement plan should never be haphazardly thrown together and presented to an employee, nor should it be the final step before termination. Be thorough with your documentation and always be sure to present the report to the employee with another manager or representative to act as a witness.

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