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6 tips for doing a performance improvement plan right

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Crystal Spraggins, SPHR

There’s a common perception that once an employee is placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP), it’s the beginning of the end for that individual. And that’s largely true.

By the time a manager has decided to implement a PIP, she most likely is at the end of her proverbial rope and looking for relief anywhere it can be found. If that means starting the paper trail needed to send an employee on his way, so be it.

But is that really the purpose of a PIP? Or does the PIP have a higher calling that’s often dismissed? Is there a better way to do a PIP? I think so. Here are my top 6 tips.

  1. Be open minded 
    Maybe you think there’s no way your employee is going to be able to improve her performance enough to save her job, and maybe you’re right. Or maybe you’re wrong. Maybe a PIP is just the call to action your errant employee needs to do better. So keep an open mind and be willing to be surprised by your employee—in a good way.
  2. Be supportive
    Even if the employee has gotten on your last nerve by this point, you’re still his manager, and that means you have certain responsibilities. So be supportive of his efforts to do a better job, offering resources, an encouraging word, and a listening ear whenever possible. It’s okay to give an employee enough rope at this stage; presumably, you’ve taken the step of placing the employee on this PIP because he hasn’t responded to your earlier coaching or counseling attempts. However, handing your employee enough rope and kicking the chair out from underneath him are two different things. Don’t kick the chair. Don’t be absent, don’t be cold, and don’t withhold important information that would help your employee help himself (and your organization).
  3. Be clear
    Once an employee is placed on a performance improvement plan, you’re going to need to provide more oversight, not less. In fact, you may even be called to micromanage, but that’s okay. If the employee had been performing to standard, your intervention wouldn’t be needed. So don’t be afraid to offer the most clear and detailed instructions you possibly can. If the PIP doesn’t help bring about improved performance, at least your employee won’t be able to claim you didn’t make your expectations clear.
  4. Be unequivocal
    If your employee needs to hear the words, say the words: “Dear Employee, your job is in jeopardy. At this point, there are grounds to terminate your employment for nonperformance. However, because of __________ (your length of service/our commitment to fairness/your past service to this organization) we’ve decided to place you on a performance improvement plan in lieu of termination.” That’s bold, I know. But it’s better to put all the cards on the table if you want the employee to take this PIP as seriously as possible.
  5. Be fair 
    Don’t let the entire PIP period (typically 30 to 60 days) pass without letting the employee know exactly how she’s measuring up. Instead, have at least one check-in period at the halfway mark. If the employee’s performance has improved, say so. If it hasn’t, be honest. Either way, ask how you can help.
  6. Be professional
    Having an employee on a PIP is stressful and a lot of work, and while you may be tempted to lose your cool at times, don’t. It’s unprofessional, and you don’t want to give your underperforming/nonperforming employee any leverage to doubt the validity of your discipline.

Placing an employee on a performance improvement plan is a last-ditch effort when you’ve tried everything else to help turn his or her performance around. It shouldn’t be entered into lightly, and it certainly shouldn’t be a set up. Enter this agreement hopeful that positive change will result but also knowing that if it doesn’t, you’ve done everything humanly possible to see that it could.

Want to learn how to match compensation to perfomance?

Read the PayScale guide: Strengthen the Link Between Pay and Performance.

2 Comments

  1. 2 M. 14 Nov

    Nice and useful tips. Find more business related topics on my site - http://mortenloegstrup.dk/politikkerne-star-for-skud-men-kan-god-ledelse-kan-aendre-udviklingen/ 

  2. 1 JH 14 Nov

    Great tips - Thanks!

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