Employee feedback is crucial in any workplace. Not only does feedback help boost productivity and improve efficiency, it can help the employee grow and develop their skills overall.
There are several ways to deliver feedback, both informally, through discussions in the moment or praising publicly and formally, such as through one-on-one meetings and annual performance reviews. Either way, employee feedback should be as soon as possible because it can resolve performance issues in real-time.
Unfortunately, not all employees implement the feedback they receive from their managers. There could be many reasons why: the employee doesn’t have a clear understanding of performance expectations, they didn’t receive proper training or enough resources, they may be going through a personal issue, etc. So as a manager, what can you do to hold your employee accountable to their lackluster work performance?
One way is through a performance improvement plan, otherwise known as a performance development plan or a performance success plan. A PIP is a formal document, which outlines performance issues and goals to improve an employee's performance, all to be met within a certain timeframe. The PIP process is usually the next step after official documentation of two repeated offenses, in which these offenses are communicated clearly to the employee by a manager.
While it can be an essential part of performance management, PIPs tend to have a bad rap, especially if implemented incorrectly. In particular, they can feel like a punishment when focused on past employee performance rather than development. According to Powerful author and former Netflix Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord, the traditional performance review is driven by a fear of being fired or laid off, since it requires a detailed paper trail of poor performance. Additionally, Forbes contributor Liz Ryan stresses that in fear-based organizations, PIPs can send the wrong message to employees, such as: “I control your livelihood, so don’t cross me.” But if you truly value them, communicate clearly and help them understand a formal performance improvement plan is an investment in them, to help them as an employee succeed. The end result of a PIP is the underperforming employee reaching improvement goals the manager believes to be attainable, and becoming a better employee in the process.
A PIP should be created by the manager, articulating the following:
- An evaluation of their current job performance, as well as performance in the past: Read up on the employee’s record or personnel file. What is their overall performance history up until now? Have they had similar performance issues in the past? Were they documented?
- An explanation of expected performance by a certain date: Establish a hard deadline. When should the goal be completed by? For Personnel Today, Huw Cooke says the period of time—whether it’s two weeks, two months, or a quarter—depends on the situation. Consider the job description and the nature of the job, your own procedures and practices, the employee’s past performance and personal circumstances, your resources within the workplace, and any agreement with a trade union.
- A performance action plan, with clear expectations and clear consequences: Your PIP goals should be established immediately, and should be SMART—Specific, Accurate, Relevant, and Time-bound—so the employee knows exactly how to complete them. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a more specific example of a SMART goal in a PIP is: “During this 90-day performance evaluation, the employee must have perfect attendance, with the exception of approved medical or family absences. They must clock in and be ready for work by the start of each scheduled shift, return from all scheduled breaks on time and remain at work for his entire shift.” Also, be sure to identify any additional disciplinary action if progress isn’t made, such as a three-strike policy. In BambooHR's explanation of a a PIP, they suggest focusing on measurable performance for a PIP. For behavioral or leadership issues, another approach may be better.
- Specific resources, training, and time the employee needs to meet these goals: Will the employee need additional training and educational materials, such as a workbook or new desk supplies, to develop the skills required to complete the goals? Will the employee need to pull resources, such as from the office budget, for the goals? Do these goals individually require a certain time frame, such as how long it would take an employee to read an entire book?
- Regular meetings with manager on progress of the PIP: Create a timeline of meetings. There should be multiple meetings over a given time period—for follow-ups and a midpoint check-in—to track progress before the goal is expected to be completed. When the plan is presented to the employee, schedule meetings into both of your calendars during this time, so check-ins are already planned in advance.
To help you get started with developing your own PIP, performance improvement plan templates are available online. However, these templates are only suggestions and can be amended to fit your workplace, employees, and situations of performance issues.
Lattice has a template that weaves in the product for better, more concise management of the performance improvement plan:
For instance, if an employee misses a deadline, a goal could be to create smaller deadlines with specific tasks over a long period of time. If an employee misses a monthly deadline, consider creating a timeline of weekly (and perhaps also daily) targets with smaller, mini-tasks to help the employee make progress towards a whole, big large within a monthly deadline.
Some other examples of inappropriate behavior, where such a plan would be useful:
- An employee skips meetings
- An employee continuously makes disrespectful or offensive comments towards coworkers
- An employee acts unprofessionally towards customers
- An employee fails to meet deadlines
- An employee violates office safety regulations
- An employee regularly arrives late to their shifts
- An employee repeatedly fails to follow specific instructions
Although PIPs can be a useful tool to address problems, they can definitely be used against an employee. They might seem to be a last step before firing an employee -- simply delaying the inevitable. At times, they can even be used for failure. Before a manager drums up a plan for an employee, they should consider how realistic it is for the employee to address their problems. If an employee has a long history of ignoring emails, even when the lack of communication has been previously addressed by the manager on multiple occasions, they might not ever change their habits. In that scenario, it may be worthwhile to let the employee go, especially if they haven’t shown any effort towards solving the problem.
If you feel an employee can improve their performance issues, a PIP is worth a shot. In the end, it’s not just about what they contribute to your specific workplace, but instead, their ability to be a reliable, responsible employee who can meet performance standards, regardless of workplace.