How Clear Performance Improvement Plans Can Pave the Way for Success

Posted by Susan Green on Mar 1, 2016 2:30:00 AM
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Creating Performance Improvement Plan (PIPs) that really works……..

Document, document, document. It would be great if that is all it takes to manage the performance of an employee who continues to walk a slippery path to meeting company expectations. I’m not suggesting you stop documenting; by no means should you do that. Documentation is the way we capture occurrences in the moment, action details that we may not be able to recall a month later. What I am suggesting is that you document the details necessary to have a meaningful conversation that allows you to help coach the employee to a position of success through an effective performance improvement plan.

So what exactly should you be documenting?

Documentation should be tied directly to activities that can be linked to written policies, processes, goals, expected outcomes, production standards, and quotas.

  1. Policies and Procedures: If your company has postponed developing your policies,
    procedures and a company handbook, you should rethink your decision. Employees must be provided parameters that define acceptable behaviors in the workplace, as well as provided federal and state regulations that, if not followed, could impose financial risks to the employer. Your HR professional, your attorney and your insurance company each play a part in making sure the necessary policies and processes are in place. Employees who fall outside of the acceptable behavior in this area could cause your company substantial risk including losing good employees. Experiencing success in the workplace is dependent upon clear processes.
  2. Duties and Responsibilities: Job descriptions should be written and provided to every employee. The job description should be used to not only state the purpose of the position; it should also state the areas of accountability and responsibility. Simply put, before you can issue an employee written notice for poor performance, they must understand what is expected of them in their role. Experiencing success in the workplace is dependent upon clearly defined duties.
  3. Goals and Outcomes: Goal setting is not a new concept. However, there are a number of employers who choose not to set any goals for their employees. Goal setting should be done to align the employee with overall corporate goals so they know how their piece of the puzzle fits into the bigger puzzle. When setting goals, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide CLEAR direction, measureable outcomes, and attainable targets. Experiencing success in the workplace is dependent upon clearly defined goals.
  4. Production Standards and Quotas: Production standards are commonly used to set measurable metrics in manufacturing, processing, sales and other tasks that are repeatable and target-setting. Putting performance measurement systems in place can not only set expectations but also help a company recognize other issues that are affecting overall performance, such as lack of training, poor system performance, high maintenance customers, etc. Using production standards also help you steer clear of subjective observations. Another way of determining if production standards and quotas are practical measurements of performance (acceptable or poor) is to create clear visibility within each department. Tracking performance data that allows you to do some comparisons of employees with very similar duties and very similar expected outcomes is a good way to gauge who is having difficulty and who is not. Experiencing success in the workplace is dependent upon clearly defined production standards.

Writing the formal plan

First, let’s agree that all performance issues do not need to be written warnings. Some performance issues should be addressed in a coaching fashion, allowing the employee to provide other information that may not be completely visible to the manager. Encouraging a two-way conversation can create trust and security that could be absent if the employee is handed a written document of reprimand to sign.

So, let’s agree the main focus of the Performance Improvement Plan is to gain successful outcomes. The goal should ideally save the employee and get them back on the right track by identifying the behavior or performance that is hindering success. By using the documentation processes above, you will be able to create SMART criteria to manage employee performance. Very similar to SMART goals, SMART criteria assures we stay focused on the behaviors and performance and not on subjective criteria.

smartgoals.png

In a September 2015 article published by SHRM, How to Establish a Performance Improvement Plan, the authors(s) share a list of components that every PIP should contain.

  • Employee information
  • Relevant dates
  • Description of performance discrepancy or gap
  • Description of "expected" performance
  • Description of "actual" performance
  • Description of consequences
  • Plan of action

So how should you go about communicating the plan?

Communicating poor performance takes skill, experience and support from your department superiors. Each step of the process should involve your Human Resources department. A skilled human resources professional can provide guidance and help you use the conversation as a coaching opportunity. A time should be set for the conversation and a Human Resources representative should accompany the manager, either in the meeting room or on the phone.  If an HR representative is not available, another manager should be present.

Although the process of approaching an employee about his or her poor performance is very difficult, it is a necessary step to employee retention. A 2013 article from Business Management Daily,Tips for Confronting Poor Performers - 6 Tips for Managers, offers this food for thought:

“….companies that tolerate poor performance will drive away top performers who are unhappy working in such an environment.

The solution: Approach workers about their performance problems in a fair, problem-solving manner. When you confront such people in a tactful way, you'll find that one of two things happens: They improve or they move.”

There are many good reasons to document performance, both poor performance and great performance. To confront a poor performer and communicate their shortcomings looking back 12 months, should never happen. Employees who are having difficulty should know where they are falling short “in the moment” not 12 months later. Waiting until an annual review to open Pandora’s box is an extremely difficult situation for both the manager and the employee. While many companies are still waiting for the annual review to “have that talk,” your competitors are doing it on a daily, weekly monthly basis.

So mentor and coach those who need help but don’t forget about those who are constantly picking up the slack and working longer hours due to a team member who is not pulling his or her weight. The cost of employee turnover is staggering, but the costs to employee morale can be greater if nothing is done.


There are easy-to-use sophisticated performance management tools that help you coach in the moment, address a situation in the moment, and provide clarity at every step. The goal is to “coach and improve.” But if continual coaching and doing a PIP do not result in the employee’s ability or willingness to improve, then letting them go may be the only solution.

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Topics: performance appraisal

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