In a perfect world, every single employee at your company would perform flawlessly at all times. They’d be constantly improving, would derive all the motivation and satisfaction they need from their work and they would exceed every single goal set for them.

In reality, things aren’t that simple.

Regardless of how thorough and painstaking your recruitment process is, you’re likely to encounter an employee with performance deficiencies, who fails to meet the requirements of his or her job or who demonstrates some less-than-desirable behavioral issues. The question is, how should line managers and human resources react when this happens? 

Cutting your losses and letting the employee go might seem like a tempting option at the time, but remember — you employed this individual for a reason. You believed they have potential and, as unsatisfying as their performance is right now, this phase might be something they can work through with the right motivation.

So how do you help your employees turn over a new leaf and reach their full potential? If you have noticed performance issues during your regular performance conversations and things appear to be getting worse, it is probably time to create an effective Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

A PIP is an HR tool designed to manage poor performance and facilitate employee improvement. This plan, designed well, will result in a happier, more productive and more engaged employee — which will benefit the organisation as a whole.

10 Essential Practices for Performance Improvement Plan

performance improvement plan

Below, we’ll explore best practice for creating a performance improvement plan.

1# Prepare Yourself & Identify Which Behavior or Areas of Performance Require Improvement

Before you meet with your employee to discuss the performance improvement plan, you need to have a firm idea of why you need one in the first place.

Decide what behaviors, or skills, require improvement and why. Prepare yourself for the reality that — once confronted —your employee might get defensive.

To show them you aren’t vindictive or rash, write up a list of specific examples of when your employee hasn’t met your company’s standards.

Gather evidence if you can and keep your emotions out of the equation. This process isn’t about you — it’s about your employee and what can be done to help them improve.

When identifying areas for improvement, be as specific as possible. Explain how the employee’s behavior or poor performance, could (or has) impacted the business. The better armed you are with information, the smoother the process will go.

2# Hold a Meeting with Your Employee

Before you officially draw up the performance improvement plan, meet with your employee to discuss what is happening and why. Discuss the items listed in the point above. 

This meeting shouldn’t come out of the blue for any employee. Before the meeting, the employee should have been given feedback and cautions, to prime them that there are issues with their performance.

If the employee in question has been receiving no or very little feedback interspersed with positive comments, it is likely they will be shocked and confused that a performance improvement plan is even in question. This isn’t the frame of mind you want your employee to be in — it won’t help the process.

The meeting shouldn’t be an opportunity for confrontation. It should be a conversation where you discuss the employee’s performance, explain why it isn’t up to your company’s standards, and explore the possible reasons behind it.

This talk could reveal any number of obstacles — perhaps they are experiencing problems at home or they are struggling with a workplace process or a recent company change.

Maybe they haven’t been given the necessary training to perform their job. Gaining a good understanding of the employee’s situation will help you put the right plan, tools and resources in place.

3# Make the Process Collaborative

A performance improvement plan isn’t the sole responsibility of the line manager, the employee or the HR department. It should be a collaborative process and everyone should invest in the outcome.

Rather than a line manager presenting a performance improvement plan to the employee and telling them what they need to improve, how and by when, employees should feel they have a say in this.

Discuss areas for improvement with the employee in question and encourage them to take part. Ask for their feedback and insights.

Are there other areas where they feel they could improve? Encourage employees to become actively involved at this point — this will promote a feeling of ownership and, hopefully, create a sense of control.

4# Design a Plan of Action and Set Specific Goals

Now you are armed with all your information — which behaviors need improvement — it’s time to start work on a plan. You can use the SMART goal process to support your PIP. Set objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Keep in mind PIPs usually last between 30 and 90 days, depending on how long it would reasonably take someone to improve on a particular skill or behavior. 

5# Discuss the Part the Company Will Play

A performance improvement plan isn’t all about the employee — the company and the line manager also have a part to play.

Discuss what guidance and support will be given to assist and encourage the employee. Communicate with the employee to get feedback on which resources, coaching and training they will need and what is reasonable. 

6# Make the Consequences Clear

You can, and should, be encouraging and supportive throughout the process — but your employee should also understand the gravity of the situation.

They need to have a clear understanding of the consequences if they fail to meet the expectations of the performance improvement plan.

They need to know their job is on the line and they should not be surprised if dismissal occurs. You should always give your employees adequate warning and the opportunity to improve.

7# Explain That You See the Employee’s Potential 

It is easy for employees to get negative and frustrated during this process. Try to make it clear to them they are still a part of the team and you remain invested in them.

Explain that you hired them because you saw potential in them and this is still the case — you just need to see proof they are trying to improve and they aren’t taking the company for granted.

8# Have HR Review the Performance Improvement Plan

Human resources should review the performance improvement plan. This eliminates any possible bias against the employee and ensures the performance issues are clear and the objectives are fair and reasonable.

An HR professional will be able to look at the PIP and make sure it is serving its desired purpose, rather than being a means to terminate employment.

9# Regularly Revisit the Performance Improvement Plan

A PIP isn’t something you should pay lip service to and promptly forget. Manager and employee should meet regularly to discuss progress, obstacles and successes. Meeting with the employee throughout the trial period will allow the manager to get an overall impression of effort.

Frequent check-ins also provide the employee with the opportunity to ask for the provision of specific resources or tools to help them on their way.

10# Celebrate Achievements Promptly

If an employee is showing a huge amount of effort or if they are achieving above and beyond expectations, be sure to celebrate this with them. Deliver prompt, insightful and accurate feedback. This feedback could be all the employee needs to inspire them to continue to improve.

A performance improvement plan is something that could signal difficulties or problems with employee engagement and commitment — but it can also be an opportunity to help your workforce improve, get everyone on the same page and enhance communication.

Make the most of the process, ask employees for feedback on how the organisation can improve and use what you learn to make your company a stronger, more resilient business.

Author Bio: Stuart Hearn is CEO and founder of Clear Review, a performance management software solution that has helped companies across the world revitalise their performance management systems while boosting productivity and engagement levels.

About the author

From time to time, we feature outside authors on fincyte and publish their informative guest posts online. This is one of those selected guest posts. Further, opinions expressed by Fincyte contributors are their own.

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