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How to Build a Performance Improvement Plan

Amanda Groves

As a manager, you may hope that it never comes to it, invariably at some point you’ll wind up having to deal with an employee who’s underperforming. If the situation doesn’t improve after you provide feedback, your next course of action will probably be to implement a performance improvement plan. Performance improvement plans are an excellent way to give employees who are struggling a framework for reaching their potential. Not only that, they can help mitigate wrongful termination suits if the person doesn’t improve and letting them go winds up being the most appropriate course of action.

Here’s how to build a performance improvement plan that gets results.

Document performance issues

The first step in building a performance plan is to thoroughly document the areas in which the employee needs improvement. Make sure to stay away from generalizations or vague descriptions and instead stick to objective, specific facts and instances that will stand up to scrutiny. For example, if the person is supposed to file a report on the organization’s media coverage every Friday and regularly fails to do so, document the specific occasions when this has happened, rather than simply noting the person always files things late.

Develop a SMART action plan

Before meeting with the employee to discuss the situation, be sure to prepare a SMART action plan. A SMART action plan will contain goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, which makes them easy to evaluate. In the process, make sure to take your employee’s feedback into consideration as appropriate. That’s important because if the employee feels like developing the plan is a collaborative effort that’s focused on helping them improve, they’ll be more likely to buy in to it.

Set a reasonable time frame

While timelines will vary from company to company and from employee to employee, in general performance improvement plans last between 30 and 90 days. You need to make sure that the time frame you’re setting is fair and reasonable, given the specific nature of the situation.

It’s also important to schedule regular check-in meetings with the employee to see how he or she is progressing and to make any adjustments if needed. There’s no point in leaving struggling employees to work through a performance plan on their own if they don’t have the right tools and support to actually to improve. Meeting weekly or even twice a week is a good idea to evaluate progress and try to eliminate any unexpected roadblocks.

Outline the consequences

Your employees need to know what the consequences are if they don’t meet the performance goals set out in your performance improvement plan. Typically this means a demotion or even being terminated. However don’t get hung up on this the point. The purpose of a performance improvement plan is to improve performance, encourage employees to do better, and show that you’re invested in their success. You don’t want to set them up to fail by demoralizing or demotivating them before they even start.

Hopefully by the time the performance plan has run its course, your employee will have successfully met all of his or her goals. If that’s the case, then congratulate the person on a job well done and make sure to make that moving forward he or she feels like a valued member of the team. Take care to keep the lines of communication open and be sure schedule a follow-up meeting to be certain the employee is still on track.

A plan to get results

It’s not easy dealing with an employee who simply isn’t pulling his or her own weight. But a well-formed performance improvement plan can give that person a valuable opportunity to course-correct and receive the help, guidance, and motivation necessary to improve. If after all is said and done there’s no improvement, terminating the employee may be the best option. If you have good performance plan in placing, knowing whether or not that’s the right decision should be a lot easier.

Have you employed performance improvement plans in your organization? If so, what strategies did you find most helpful?

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