Human Resources News & Insights

Do your managers know how to get the best from their people?


Leaner staffs have made individual employee performance priority No. 1 for today’s managers. So what’s the best way to deal with a worker who’s just not cutting it?

The answer lies in your progressive discipline plan.

Progressive discipline for behavior problems like rule-breaking or safety violations is comparatively simple: The employee needs to put a halt to the specific behavior, or suffer the consequences.

Progressive discipline for performance deficiencies, however, isn’t always so clear cut. The amount of time and effort a manager is willing to put into improving an employee’s performance can vary widely, depending on the nature of the performance issue and the perceived value of the employee.

Problem is, many managers don’t really know how to improve their reports’ performance — they just go day-by-day, trying to get workers to do better through informal pep talks, pleading and even threats.

And the problem rarely improves. A better idea: the performance improvement plan, or PIP.

Addressing the problem head-on

It’s a more formal approach — and it requires some discipline on the part of the manager — but the PIP has proven to be far more effective than the “If I just keep talking, they’ll do better” tactic.

First step: a written plan. Here’s what managers need to cover in a formal PIP:

  • The deficiency statement. This is a rundown of just where the employee’s performance hasn’t been up to standards.
    Managers should determine if the problem is actual performance (a lack of mastery of skills or tasks) or a behavior problem (an ability to perform the tasks, but a disruptive presence that gets in  the way of others’ productivity).
  • The overall action plan. This section defines what skills or behaviors need improvement and specific duties where improvement is necessary. Also included should be a rundown of any special training that will be provided, either by the manager or other individuals.
  • Specific goals. Most PIPs include both short- and long-term performance targets.
  • The time frame. When does the manager expect to see improvement in the specified areas?
  • Specific measurements. What’s going to be an acceptable standard of improvement?
  • Specific consequences. If the employee’s performance doesn’t improve within the time limits, what happens next?
  • Feedback sessions. The manager should schedule periodic update sessions during the PIP time frame.
    It’s very difficult for a PIP to be successful if the parties don’t get together regularly to check on how things are going – and make whatever mid-course corrections are needed.

Documentation tips

No surprise here: Documentation is the bedrock on which solid talent management is built.

Managers need to have a written record of every segment of the PIP – from a memo confirming an initial verbal warning to the final termination decision, if the process gets that far.

Every piece of PIP documentation should cover three distinct phases:

  • The present. This is a rundown of the issue that’s at the center of the discipline action. It should include specifics of the problem, a breakdown of the negative effect on the overall operation, and disciplinary action being taken as a result of the employee’s failure to perform.
  • The past. This section reviews the employee’s work record, outlines any history of similar problems, and summarizes previous disciplinary actions taken.
  • The future. This section lays down the expected standard of behavior or performance, how this standard can be achieved, and the consequences of continued failure to meet expectations.
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