Performance improvement plan

09 July 2019

When employees are struggling with performance issues it can create problems for you and your business. If a team member is falling short of what is required of them then you may need to create a clear path of objectives to help them improve.

Poor performance can lead to a drop in productivity and employee morale. This could lead to an increase in employee turnover and larger hiring costs. That's why it's important to make sure that all employees meet expectations and perform well in their job.

In this guide, we'll discuss what a performance improvement plan is, how to implement one in your company and why they're important.

What is a performance improvement plan?

A performance improvement plan (also known as the PIP process or personal improvement plan) is a formal document used to support struggling employees. It is used to help identify areas of concern and help develop their personal growth.

Be aware that performance improvement plans are not a way to target or punish struggling employees. An effective PIP focuses on positive reinforcement to get to the root cause of an issue. Employee performance improvement plans can help you pinpoint employees that may need additional training so that you can offer support.

Good managers should already be conducting regular check-ins to make sure that tasks are being completed to an expected standard. Performance improvement plans create a structured approach to help guide employees in the right direction.

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Why is an employee improvement plan important?

When an employee's performance isn't meeting expectations, it can cause issues across your company. You may miss deadlines or have to rely on other employees to pick up extra work to meet deadlines.

If employees feel that a member of the team isn't pulling their weight this can create workplace conflict. This can have a knock-on effect on everyone's performance as it can create personal problems between employees.

Performance improvement plans can help set out clear expectations for any underperforming employee. They can also outline clear consequences and disciplinary action if they fail to improve..

Following an employee improvement plan can help you save time and money on hiring. It also creates a company culture of performance accountability and shows your employees that the company values employee mobility and improvement.

Why should you implement a performance improvement plan?

You should implement a formal PIP as soon as you identify a clear trend in poor performance. This could include:

  • Failure to meet expectations or deadlines.
  • A drop in work quality.

A drop in performance isn’t always related to a poor attitude or low effort. It may be that the employee didn’t receive proficient training or have struggled following a break from work.

How to create an effective performance improvement plan

Before you begin the PIP process you need to identify the signs of poor performance. If the employee has previously been performing well, you will need to consider what has changed.

This conversation isn't always easy, and managers need to stay focused on identifying why an employee is struggling.

Determine whether a performance improvement plan is necessary

Begin by scheduling a check-in to discuss how the employee is feeling. Here, a manager can discuss any personal issues that they may be experiencing and if these are affecting their work. However, an employee should never be pressured into opening up about their personal problems.

Managers need to avoid any questions coming across as personal attacks on employees. If an employee feels unfairly criticised then it may be harder to improve their performance. Make sure that the employee knows that you are there to provide guidance and support instead of criticism.

If the employee's performance issues continue after the initial meeting, you will need to begin the performance improvement plan process.

Find the root causes of the issue

Performance plans only work when there is a clear understanding of the root causes of the issue. It may be that a member of staff is struggling due to a lack of training or knowledge. They could be struggling to communicate with their manager meaning the employee receives unclear guidance and direction.

It's important to remember that a lack of productivity isn't always caused by laziness. That's why you need to focus on the positive aspects of their work performance.

A performance improvement plan shows that you value having them within your team and that you would like them to continue to be a part of it. This can help motivate an employee and help them to focus on improving their quality of work.

Develop a SMART framework

PIPs are a collaborative process to help motivate employees showing poor performance. Create a formal document that lays out measurable objectives. You should give employees a set time frame to achieve these goals.

Creating a SMART framework can help. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This framework can help with setting clear, attainable goals within the workplace.

These could be related to an employee's progress or workload management. For example, you may ask employees to complete tasks in a shorter time frame to improve productivity.

Acceptable performance from an employee will depend on their job role so their objectives will be unique to them. Once you have determined the outcome, Create a specific timeline with precise incremental goals that can demonstrate their improvement.

Implement training and development schemes

Don't let the employee struggle on their own. Instead, explain how the employee's manager can help them achieve their required goals. This could be done through one-to-one training.

A clear path can make the process feel more manageable and less overwhelming for the employee involved. A series of small challenges are often easier to tackle than larger issues so set smaller deadlines to help encourage employees to stay motivated.

You should have a formal document stating the start and end date of your performance improvement plan. If not, you are essentially placing an employee in professional purgatory which can impede performance. It is easier for employees to stay positive and work actively towards goals when they feel supported by their manager and secure in their job.

Regularly review employee's performance

When carrying out a performance plan, you need to keep the channels of communication open. You should schedule check-ins regularly throughout the performance plan process to assess your employee's development.

These regular check-ins can be conducted weekly or monthly depending on your employee's progress. These are best carried out by an employee's manager. These meetings are in place to give both employee and manager the chance to discuss any issues they may be having.

You may find that there are some problems with the current performance improvement plan. If it seems like the plan isn't working how you would like, or if elements seem unfair or counterproductive you can use this feedback to change the plan to better suit everyone.

In some cases, you may choose to end the plan following one of these check-ins. This could be because the employee has far exceeded their goals and no longer needs to be monitored. However, you may also end a performance improvement plan early, if it seems clear that no improvement is being made despite your ongoing support.

Can you dismiss an employee once the PIP process has finished?

If an employee has failed to meet their set goals or expectations it may mean that they don’t have the skills to do their current role.

You cannot dismiss an employee just because they have failed their performance plan. Instead, you must follow the formal capability process. This will include issuing both verbal and written warning however, the process will differ depending on an employee’s length of service.

Conducting a final review

Once your employee performance improvement plan has come to an end you will need to assess whether it was a success. A final review consists of a sit-down meeting between an employee and their manager. Here they will discuss the successes and failings of the plan and whether there were any noticeable improvements to the employee's overall performance.

Here, you can discuss whether an employee has met their targets. If they did then you can consider the improvement plan complete. This means an employee can return to their job and no further action will be needed.

However, if there has been no noticeable improvement, alternative action must be taken.

Actions following an employee performance improvement plan

Hopefully, your employee has met all of their objectives. If this is the case, reward their success. This can be done verbally during a meeting with managers, or through written feedback. This can help your employee continue to feel motivated long after the plan has ended.

If the employee has not met their goals, you will need to consider your next steps. The employee may achieved most of their objectives but fell short of certain aspects. If so you should consider extending the deadline of the performance improvement plan so that they can continue to develop their skills.

However, if the employee is still falling short of what is considered acceptable performance, you will need to decide whether they are the right person for the job. This is the worst-case scenario and shouldn't be taken lightly. However, it's important that you do what is best for your company.

 two female employees talking happily

Can you dismiss an employee following a performance improvement plan?

In short, yes. If an employee has not met the objectives outlined in their performance improvement plan, then you can dismiss them. However, before this happens you must take formal action through the capability procedure by issuing a verbal and written warning.

There is a misconception that a PIP is the start of the dismissal procedure. While a performance improvement plan could result in a dismissal this should be seen as a last resort.

Ultimately, you should want your staff to continually develop and improve so that they remain with your company for a long time.

Get expert advice from Peninsula about employee performance improvement plans

It can be hard to manage an employee that isn't meeting deadlines or your expectations. That's why it's important to have a clear path of objectives that outlines exactly what is expected of them and how they can improve.

It's important that managers know how to communicate these expectations to employees. If they don't it can be hard for an employee to progress and improve. This may lead to a higher turnover which can be costly for businesses.

Peninsula can help, our expert advisors and 24/7 HR advice and support line can guide you through every step of performance improvement plans. Contact us 0800 029 4376.


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