Performance Improvement Plans
Dealing with poor performance issues can be challenging for managers. You may be worried about the impact this conversation could have on your future working relationship with your employee or how they may react, but at the same time you recognise that these issues are having a detrimental impact on the performance of the team, department or business.
Once a performance issue has been identified, which you have already tried to address as part of your day to day management and supervision processes, you could consider taking informal action.
The importance of supportive informal action before any formal Capability Procedure is initiated is important and should be fully considered, prior to invoking the formal procedure as an employee who receives a formal warning for their performance (Capability), could quickly find themselves facing the prospect of termination of their employment or demotion once they receive their first formal written warning/improvement note.
One way to help an employee improve their performance informally is through what is often referred to as a Performance Improvement Plan or PIP. A PIP is designed to facilitate a constructive discussion between an employee and their manager about their performance and to provide a tool to communicate and document all the details the employee needs to know regarding the performance issue and the plan to collaboratively try and address this.
Top Tips when using Performance Improvement Plans (PIP’s)
- Obtain Guidance
In most cases, it is recommended that the line manager obtains guidance from a HR/Employment Law Advisor prior to initiating a PIP with an employee. This is to check whether a PIP is the most appropriate course of action to take in these circumstances and whether there are any additional factors which need to be considered e.g. if the employee has an underlying health condition which could be impacting their performance.
- Does the employee know that they are under-performing?
A PIP should not come as a surprise to an employee. You should ideally have had conversations previously with your employee about their performance e.g. during one-to-ones or formal appraisals/performance reviews. An employee should be more receptive to working with you to establish a PIP if they are already aware that there are concerns about their performance.
- Don’t use a PIP as a tick box exercise to expedite the employee’s exit from the business
The purpose of investing time and effort into developing a PIP should be to give your employee the opportunity to improve their performance with guidance/direction and support before taking any formal action. Investing time in the PIP process can save you management time in the future if your employee improves their performance as an output of the process. The purpose of the PIP should be aligned with the desired outcome, otherwise employees will quickly become sceptical about their use and value within your organisation.
- How to prepare for a PIP meeting/discussion?
- The employee can be orally invited to attend the meeting.
- Explain the purpose of the meeting and who will be present.
- The meeting should be approached in a fair, calm and objective manner.
- The timing of the meeting should be mutually convenient for both parties.
- The meeting should be uninterrupted with appropriate time allocated.
- It can be useful to review the employee’s job description prior to the meeting to check it still reflects the job requirements and use this for reference in the meeting to clarify the expectations and responsibilities for the role.
- Work collaboratively with the employee to develop the PIP
This is paramount. An effective PIP should not just focus on telling your employee that they need to change and improve. The importance is in the ‘how’ and a collaborative approach to recognise and agree the ‘how’ by developing the PIP together should be more effective and engaging for your employee than taking a dictatorial approach. The idea is to work together to figure out how to get to the outcome you both want.
- What should a PIP document include?
- Descriptions and examples of the performance issues.
- Agreed performance targets and timeframes for achieving these.
- Specific behaviours/actions required to determine whether targets have been met.
- Any support your employee may require to achieve these targets e.g. additional training or retraining.
- How you will monitor their performance e.g. by observation, work records, feedback from colleagues/customers etc.
- A performance review period setting out when you will meet with your employee to review their performance against the PIP, including any interim check in reviews.
- Carry out your reviews
This may sound like common sense, but PIP processes are often started then find themselves waylaid due to other business priorities or the employee having marginally improved their performance. This can make more work for you further down the line if you must start the process again from scratch if the performance issues continue or re-emerge. Once you start the process, plan when to carry out your reviews with your employee. This is your opportunity to check in, provide feedback and determine the appropriate next steps in the process.
- How do I manage PIP processes during the coronavirus pandemic?
If your employee is on a PIP but currently absent from the business due to being furloughed, or because they are self-isolating, it would be advisable to place the PIP process on hold until the employee returns to work and then extend the PIP review time-frame to account for the time the employee has been absent from the business. This is fair and reasonable and gives the employee the same time-frame to improve, upon their return, had they not been absent.
If your employee is working from home during the pandemic, the PIP process can continue. You should review the PIP and consider if any of the content for example targets, time-frames and how the employees’ performance will be monitored, needs to be adjusted to account for any impact the pandemic may have had on the job requirements. Any targets and time-frames should still be reasonable, realistic, and achievable. In a homeworking scenario a PIP review meeting can take place by video conference or phone in the current climate.