Don’t Wait to Evaluate: Performance Improvement Plans for Poor Performers

by Jennifer Roman

Many of us have been there. We are frustrated, the employee is frustrated or upset, and both of us are losing the motivation to move forward in a productive way. From repetitive directives to repetitive errors, the tension is continuing to grow. As supervisors, we begin to lose patience and dread interactions with the employee, because all seem to focus on negativity and difficult conversations. The friendly exchanges between you and your employee have long since become a memory and every day you are overwhelmed with the additional work you are doing because you have a poor performer on your team.

One of the most difficult aspects of personnel management is dealing with poor performance. It is a burden on management as well as peers when an employee is not willing or able to pull their weight. There are two common mistakes that supervisors make when dealing with performance issues. The first is that they continue to address each issue separately. The second is that they wait until the annual performance evaluation is due to communicate their overall dissatisfaction with performance.

When a supervisor begins to recall multiple instances of the same mistake or clusters of errors over periods of time, it is likely time to address it from this perspective with the employee. Continuing to address each issue independently does not always give the employee the big picture perspective. Before you ever get to a performance improvement plan, your meetings should be addressing a primary error as well as the ones that you have observed over time. This allows the employee to understand the compounding impact each error is having on your assessment of their overall performance. This will give the employee an opportunity to amend the performance issues before it becomes critical to their continued employment with the company.

Communication is key when you begin to notice performance issues. Many managers have a tendency to avoid addressing problems while frustrations build, only to react over-emotionally when reaching the breaking point. This is not fair to the supervisor, the team or the employee. Keeping an open line of communication and setting a serious tone with purpose is critical to creating a platform for which improvement can be achieved by the employee. Address every problem, every time. Keep your emotions in check when communicating your observations to the employee.

When all else fails, PIP! Performance Improvement Plans are very similar to performance evaluations, but one should not be substituted for another. A performance evaluation is a regular review of performance to document progress, or lack of progress, for employees during a designated period of time. Many companies who provide merit increases or bonuses directly tie their evaluation process to compensation. A performance improvement plan is used when improvement is needed within a certain period of time to maintain employment with an organization.

Performance Improvement plans outline performance issues and necessary goals which need to be met over a period of time, typically ranging from 30-90 days. Performance improvement plans not only require effort on the part of the employee, they also require additional effort on the part of the supervisor. Prior to putting together a performance improvement plan, the supervisor must be documenting specific instances of poor performance. This will allow the supervisor to communicate specific examples to the employee where their performance is not meeting expectations.

A solid performance improvement plan should have four primary components: a statement of problem areas in performance, requirements for improvement, measures for improvement, and the method you will use to track progress. Once your performance improvement plan is finalized, you should schedule a meeting with the employee. During the meeting, you will have to properly communicate that the employee’s performance is not meeting expectations and that if it does not improve, they will be subject to termination.

It is important during the performance improvement period to meet with the employee regularly to give them feedback on your observations and communicate how they are progressing through the improvement period. Those meetings should be documented and retained by the company.

In the end, the performance improvement plan will serve one of two purposes: the employee will be able to meet expectations and maintain their position with the organization or you will have a well-documented record of the reason that the employee was terminated. That documentation will reduce liability for the company if the employee chooses to take legal action as a result of the termination.

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