Manager/Supervisor Tips: Performance Improvement Plans

Managers often view employee performance issues as something that signals a flaw or weakness in the employee. If the employee is not doing the things the manager needs, when or how they need them, then managers sometimes presume their employees are not intelligent, lazy, or being obstinate. However, when we view performance gaps as deficiencies of intelligence or character, we fail to acknowledge that it is often managers who are also contributing to the poor performance. Maybe we weren't clear about priorities. Maybe we let poor behavior go on so long that employees start to believe these are acceptable levels of work. This blindness to our own contributions to employee performance problems can not only hurt our relationships with employees, it can keep us from getting the work we need done.

As managers, it is our responsibility to provide employees with tools and support to ensure they can correct their performance. This is where Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) come into play. PIPs are designed to give employees with performance deficiencies the opportunity to bridge the performance gap and succeed.

While PIPs can be utilized any time during the performance year, they are especially important if you rated an employee as “needs improvement" on their EPA 2. In NEOGOV Perform, you can find them under “Development Plans." But before you head over there, let's review how to create a good improvement plan.​

  1. 1. Define the Problem: What exactly is the performance problem? Is it conduct-related or task-related? Is there an attendance issue? Describe what is going on and the effect the employee's behavior is having on the team, customers, and organization.

  1. 2. Don't Presume Cause: As managers, we can see performance gaps, often fairly accurately. Where we run into problems is when we attempt to diagnose the cause for those gaps. If an employee is not performing well in an area, don't presume you know why. Ask and get their take on it. Taking this moment to receive feedback, pause, and reflect allows us to be more fair in our judgments and more successful in our interventions because they fit the actual root cause of the problem.

  1. 3. Define Success: After identifying the key issues and their causes, continue to describe what success would look and feel like. Provide examples with specific instances in which the employee underperformed and also metrics to define what success would look like.

  1. 4. ​Set Goals: First you need to create a reasonable timeline for the PIP. It should be long enough to allow the employee time to make the improvements. To provide clear guidance and to help the employee succeed, you should also create concrete, measurable steps and identify how the employee can reach them. Alternatively, be sure to discuss with the employee any obstacles that could stand in his or her way.

  2. 5. Talk About Resources: The tenured staff should know all the resources they need to do their jobs. But sometimes we forget. Because a PIP is intended to help the employee become successful, it calls for mentioned resources. Do they need training, coaching, equipment, etc.?

  3. 6. Schedule Feedback Sessions: While it is up to the employee to improve his or her performance, it is your responsibility to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with them to discuss their progress or lack thereof. When you have a staff member on a PIP, you may want to increase your meeting frequency to weekly instead of bi-weekly or monthly.

  4. 7. Outline the Consequences: You cannot create accountability without discussing the consequences for failing to improve performance. Without being rude or harsh, explain what is at stake if things don't improve.

At the end of the PIP duration, evaluate what progress the employee has made. Maybe they weren't able to fully meet the goals you outlined, but has there been some or enough improvement? Continue to monitor or feel free to extend the length of the PIP. Continue to meet regularly with the employee so they won't slip back into their old behaviors.

Ultimately, it is up to the employee to improve his or her performance and/or conduct. But you must do everything possible, without doing the work for them, to ensure they can be successful. Should they fail, you might need to move ahead with disciplinary action.

As always, get support from your manager and HR. And above all: document, document, document!

For more information, please review these links:

Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs)

How to Create Effective Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) That Drive Success

How to Create a Performance I​mprovement Plan