I think a general bias is to view a Performance Improvement Plan as nefarious thing with termination as the ultimate objective. Objectively, a Performance Improvement Plan is a tool in the tool kit to remedy under performance or correct behaviors. I think how a company uses Performance Improvement Plan says a lot about their culture and value for employees. Ideally, the employee has received prior feedback that they are underperforming or have behaviors counter to norms and expectations and have been given a chance to take corrective actions. The employee is given amply notification and the Performance Improvement Plan is genuinely used in a positive manner. A Performance Improvement Plan used simply as a step in the termination process to check a box shows a disregard for employees in my opinion.
Building on Mitch's comments, the PIP's can be an overall asset in managing and improving employee performance. First off, though, you need a blunt, honest introspection that feedback with the employee up to this time has been proper and adequate. Communication, vulnerable to failure at so many points, requires two earnest participants. Has this been occurring?
- The PIP does protect the employer but also protects the employee, especially if the supervisor does not do well with performance improvement with their crew mates.
- The better PIP's are specific, targeted, conform to the job description, and are limited in scope (we are not out to cure the world's ills!) with time and improvement benchmarks. The benchmarks preferably are measurable to reduce subjectivity in the process (admittedly tough to do with engineering).
- If there is a long list of concerns to address, prioritize the concerns and bunch them in discrete PIP's. Bunching related concerns helps focus the PIP and helps to assure a positive outcome.
- If you incorporate the employee's longer term goals, you have the opportunity to change the tone of the conversation from "you're a bad employee" to "let's work together to help you reach your goals". In this case, if a promotion is part of the long term goal, you can also use the new job description in the PIP.
Managing and improving employee performance typically involves some form of behavior modification. Behavior modification is a time dependent process which, in my opinion, is best accomplished in small increments tackling one concern at a time on a relatively frequent basis. Behavior modification has not worked for me if implemented at yearly or quarterly or even monthly intervals; every two weeks seems best.
Since we as humans tend to slip back to our preferred 'low energy states', it is important to go back to the PIP every now and then with the employee to assure continued focus and attention as needed for any course corrections, critical to achieve behavior modification. Periodic, minor course corrections are always better for long term success (although nagging is to be avoided!).
Which points to another important concern in this process: supervisor competency with employee development. At a large organization at which I worked, extensive employee dissatisfaction was traced to poor supervisor performance with employee development. In response, the organization put all current supervisors through a 5 day performance management training session. The results: not only did employee development improve but overall morale improved noticeably. As a consequence, all new supervisors get the same training.
The PIP process takes commitment; the success rate is not 100% and different employees (and supervisors for that matter) will need different approaches. You'll stumble as you gain experience but a positive attitude during the process will get you past those hurdles.
Respectfully,Chuck Howard, P.E. M. ASCERichmond, VA
I'm enjoying your responses to Christopher's question and the follow ups; thank you.
With respect to SMART, I defer to Maxwell for that. Seriously, though, as a structural engineer I never could get comfortable employing measurables for performance management / professional development. Yes, there are lazy professionals but their tenure was usually short lived in the office – just no place to "hide"; as "bad apples", I did what I could to keep their tenure short. As you noted, how one hires has a big role in this kind of concern.
My preferred professional development route focused on achieving goals, short term and long term, matching up firm objectives with the professional's objectives. Check in's, usually once a year, would assess progress on goal achievements, tend to any needed course corrections, and review whether adjusting goals and / or setting new goals were in order. At times, quarterly reviews would be scheduled to supplement, depending on the individual and the goals. Overall, this approach worked best for me and seemed to be well received.
With respect to Christopher's initial question about the place for PIP's, I have used them in many different forms. In the most literal case, where an employee is "dead man walking", the PIP can be the precursor to showing them the door; one last stab at salvation. However, given the difficulties of finding staff, the PIP may be required as a last means of retaining as many as possible, and not because HR has mandated its use.
I have seen the PIP go both ways – showing folks the door and finding salvation. In the end, it's about whether the involved individuals can find common ground (goals) and be able to work to them. Perhaps a bad metaphor, but I am trying to work out the curve in a deck board. I've applied the clamps and now it's a matter of time with the occasional turn of the screw. Hopefully, screws aren't involved in your PIP, but time and course corrections will be needed. Of course, removing the clamps may result in some spring back, but not to worry, the clamps get re-applied.
Hope all this helps.Chuck