The performance improvement plan is an important tool for any manager in any company, but it’s often misunderstood. Is a PIP a form of disciplinary action? Yes, somewhat. Is it the form you fill out because you eventually want to terminate someone? No.
A performance improvement plan should be focused on improvement, just as the name suggests. You as the employer have identified that the employee isn’t performing to the expected level for the position, and you want to provide an opportunity for that person to get back on track. There may be a multitude of reasons they’re not meeting expectations — communication problems, resource issues, a need for additional training, or even just a personal issue that creates a distraction for the employee. If you have effective employee onboarding, they should have clear expectations of their job duties already. If your onboarding process hasn’t created clear expectations, you might need to back up a step and have some conversations to set initial expectations before you say an employee isn’t meeting them.
Let’s assume you’ve already set clear expectations, and the employee isn’t meeting them. Your company policies should clearly outline the process that occurs in this situation. In most organizations, a conversation with the employee is the first step. During that conversation, try to identify the underlying cause of the issue and discuss ways you can help resolve it. If it’s training or resources, evaluate if additional training is needed. If it’s a communication issue or a conflict with another team member, discuss strategies for resolving it. If it’s a personal issue for the employee, ensure they are aware of any resources to support them, such as an employee assistance program.
If an initial conversation with the employee doesn’t result in improvement, the next step is generally a written performance improvement plan, or PIP. It must be specific, measurable, and able to be achieved in the given time frame. Once written, there should be no confusion about what the employee needs to accomplish to meet the performance standards.
Let’s look at a sample scenario. Cindy is an entry-level business analyst who is responsible for a variety of reports, but those reports are consistently late. Her supervisor has noticed that Cindy spends a lot of time chatting with coworkers each morning, and she’s often texting on her cell phone during the workday. If Cindy’s reports aren’t submitted on time, then other employees can’t complete their reports and analysis on time, which is creating a problem among the team. In conversations with Cindy, the supervisor has not identified any training or resource issues, but rather just a general time management issue. She writes a PIP for Cindy to help her refocus, which outlines that all weekly and monthly reports will be submitted on time with appropriate accuracy for the next month. Cindy will also submit a weekly log of her hours to her supervisor by 3 p.m. each Friday. The details are clear and measurable: submit a time log by 3 p.m. each week and submit all weekly and monthly reports on time with appropriate accuracy. Both the supervisor and Cindy sign the PIP to indicate they agree to the specifics.
Now, for many employees who are placed on a PIP, it feels like a slap on the wrist. But really the goal is to help that employee be successful and to improve their performance in a constructive way. It’s not a “do this or get fired” conversation; it’s a “we want to help you succeed” conversation. The goal of a PIP is to retain that employee as a member of your team. If there are foundational concerns about an employee not following policy, rather than not meeting performance expectations, then it’s time to write up the employee and begin looking at an exit plan.
Does your organization have a clear policy and process for performance improvement plans? WhyHR can help!