top of page

Performance Improvement Plans - Are you using them to reinforce employee behavior?

Sometimes an employee intentionally, or unintentionally breaks your rules as set out in your Employee Handbook. (You have an Employee Handbook, don’t you?) They regularly arrive late, consistently forget to clock in, or take too long a lunch break. Other times an employee isn’t meeting performance expectations. They are rude to customers on the phone, are not keeping their assigned work area clean enough, or aren’t producing the amount of work you require from them. In situations like these, you need to counsel that employee in writing, so they are put on notice of the rule they are breaking or the performance measure they are not meeting. This is best done through a written progressive employee Performance Improvement Plan.

A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is an agreement between the employee and employer that describes the identified infraction or performance shortfall, the performance goals the employee must meet to keep their job, how long they must complete them, and what happens if they fail to meet these goals. A PIP should include job responsibilities, work schedule, direct supervisor and manager contact information, performance standards and expected results, times, and locations for meetings to discuss progress and support, who will be responsible for the completion of the goals, consequences for failing to meet the goals, and expected timeline.

The plan should not be created in haste but should be well defined and have timeframes that can be followed. If you have a clear plan with defined goals, your employees will feel better than if you provide vague demands for improvement and no clear path to success.

When you first notice the performance issue, it is important to begin writing everything down. If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Even documenting informal conversations can be important if piecing together a timeline or reminding yourself of them become necessary in the future. If possible, collect copies of electronic communications such as email or text messages. Notes about phone conversations, one-on-one conversations, or impressions of watching unprofessional or subpar behavior in interactions with co-workers or groups.

The keys to an effective PIP are written expectations and consistency. With no set goals and no written plan, it is impossible to have regular reviews and positive and negative consequences for success or failure. The PIP should be given to the employee in person and in private. It is a good idea to have a witness present, typically the employee’s supervisor or a manager. The PIP should be signed by the employee and their manager or supervisor, and a copy should be given to the employee.

Here are five mistakes to avoid in implementing a performance improvement plan. The first mistake is not addressing the specific problem areas, such as spending too much time on tasks or social media usage.

The second mistake is not holding employees accountable for their actions. For example, not following through on warnings given in the plan. This leads to failure and discourages employees from participating meaningfully in the program.

The third mistake is not having a manager or supervisor available to participate in the plan. The manager or supervisor can help employees understand what they are expected to do and make sure they do not forget or misunderstand. Employees may not be completely committed to the changes required if they do not know what is expected of them.

The fourth mistake is not giving your employees the tools and support to succeed. Employees need management to hold them accountable and provide them with training and resources. If an employee’s performance is not meeting expectations, determine whether there is additional training you can provide that will help them do their job better.

The fifth mistake is not assessing the effectiveness of the program. PIPs must be measured to determine the effectiveness of the plan. For example, managers should monitor each employee’s behavior regularly to see if their performance has improved.

While a plan to improve performance may help motivate your employee and get them back on track, an effective employee improvement plan may also save you from potential lawsuits. Written documentation of an employee’s performance shortfalls, your efforts to help the employee improve their performance, and their inability or unwillingness to improve will be very helpful should a fired employee attempt to sue you for wrongful termination.

Sometimes, an employee’s performance is not improving despite your best attempts to help them. For these instances, you may need to terminate the employee. I will discuss that topic in the next post.

You can learn more about our flat-rate employment law services here.

bottom of page