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Firing with Empathy: Crafting a Performance Improvement Plan (Part 2) with handout
A discussion about how to properly navigate employee terminations with empathy and accountability.
Sometimes, despite best efforts, an employee may not meet minimal performance standards. They could be exhibiting severe and repeated performance issues or violations of company policies. A well-structured performance improvement plan (PIP) can provide a structured pathway for improvement and, if necessary, a fair basis for eventual termination.
📑 In part two, we delve deeper into the various sections of a PIP (handout here), why they are crucial for both the employee and the organization, and a deep dive into the Performance Improvement Plan template areas within the handout.
Delivering the message to employees that they are going on a PIP
When putting an employee on a PIP, please fill out the handout above and send it to HR first.
Once approved, set up a meeting with the person going on the PIP along with your counterpart in HR.
It’s on the manager of the employee to own the conversation. HR is your partner in this process but ultimately the person going on the PIP is the manager’s employee.
Before the meeting starts, have a quick round up with your HR business partner to discuss the flow of the conversation and what part each person plays in the conversation. It’s best not to improvise.
At the start of the meeting, don't beat around the bush. It shouldn't ever be a surprise when you put an employee on a plan.
"Thanks for taking the time to meet with us. I know the two of us have discussed performance in past 1:1's. We will implement a formal plan to create metrics for success and help drive this improvement. Before we go into the details of this plan, I want to reiterate that we all want you to win here. Your success is our success. Let's dive in."
PIP Section Deep Dive
The Performance Expectations section is the cornerstone of any PIP. Here, we meticulously detail specific aspects of an employee's performance that have fallen short of expectations, leaving no room for ambiguity. This clarity is paramount, as it ensures both the employer and the employee are on the same page regarding what needs improvement. It empowers employees to focus their efforts efficiently, accelerates improvement, and provides a clear benchmark for assessing progress.
This section sets the stage for a constructive and empathetic performance improvement process.
SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) objectives that guide employees on the path to enhancing their performance. It provides direction and accountability by setting specific timelines for progress assessment, enabling employees to track their improvements systematically.
Performance Objectives equip employees with a structured framework for improvement.
Support and Resources
What kind of support and resources do I recommend managers consider including in this section? Here’s a few of the best suggestions I always have in my back pocket when a manager needs some guidance:
Set clear expectations: Managers should start by setting clear expectations for the employee. This includes defining specific performance goals, objectives, and success criteria. Make sure the employee fully understands what is expected of them during the improvement period.
Provide ongoing feedback and coaching. Schedule regular check-in meetings (or use your existing meetings if they’re already on the calendar) to discuss progress, address concerns, and answer any questions the employee may have. Constructive feedback should be specific, actionable, and focused on improvement.
Consider assigning a mentor or coach to the employee, especially if the performance issues are skill-related. This mentor can provide one-on-one guidance and support, helping the employee develop necessary skills.
Training and Development: Identify any gaps in the employee's skills or knowledge that are hindering their performance. Provide access to relevant training programs, workshops, or courses. This can help the employee acquire new skills or refresh existing ones. If you’re in “scrappy startup” mode, it’s also beneficial to assign the employee homework and have them find some training and development courses that they think would benefit them, and the company can cover those costs.
Resource Allocation: Ensure the employee has the necessary resources and tools to perform their job effectively. This may include access to software, equipment, or materials required for their tasks.
Conflict Resolution Support: If the performance issues are related to conflicts or interpersonal issues, be prepared to mediate or provide conflict resolution training. Addressing these issues can improve overall team dynamics.
Recognition and Rewards: Recognize and reward improvements in performance. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator. Consider implementing a rewards system or acknowledgment program to encourage progress.
Flexibility: Be open to adjusting work arrangements if needed. Sometimes, flexible hours or remote work options can help employees manage personal challenges that may be affecting their performance.
EAP and Wellness Programs: Ensure that employees are aware of and have access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and wellness programs. These can provide support for personal issues that might be impacting performance.
The action plan is the heart of the PIP, providing a detailed roadmap for employees to enhance their performance. It breaks down actions with clear instructions, offering both structure and guidance. Moreover, it serves as a reference point for measuring progress, motivating employees to continually strive for betterment and creating a roadmap for improvement, structure and accountability.
One place where managers often get confused is assuming the delivery of the PIP is where their job stops and where their employee takes over. For a PIP to work, this should be a collaborative effort. I usually recommend a 6 week timeline for PIPs, and here’s a good structure for how that plan will play out:
Week 1: Assessment and Goal Setting
Conduct a comprehensive performance assessment. Identify specific areas where improvement is needed and have it documented
Draft the PIP write up utilizing the handout and then meet with HR for approval
Meet with the employee to discuss the PIP. Ensure they understand the plan's purpose, expectations, and the consequences of not meeting them.
6-week period. These goals should be specific, measurable, and aligned with the organization's objectives.
Week 2-3: Skill Development and Training
Begin skill development and training activities. Assign relevant training materials, courses, or resources to address the identified skill gaps.
Ensure the employee has access to necessary training and support. Monitor their progress in skill development and address any obstacles they encounter.
Manager reviews progress around metrics for success with the employee
Manager sends HR a recap email around progress for documentation purposes in the scenario that a termination will be the outcome at the end of 6 weeks
Week 4-5: Regular Check-Ins and Feedback
Continue with weekly check-ins. Recognize and acknowledge any improvements made so far. Adjust the action plan if needed based on the employee's progress and feedback.
Provide constructive feedback on the employee's performance, focusing on what's improving and what needs further attention.
Manager to meet with HR to discuss the progress of the 6-week plan and determine if termination may still be necessary. If termination remains an option, the planning process should run parallel with the PIP.
Week 6: Final Assessment and Future Planning
Conduct a final assessment of the employee's performance against the goals set in Week 1. Compare their performance to the baseline established at the beginning of the PIP
Review the 6-week journey with the employee. Discuss the progress made, areas of improvement, and any remaining challenges.
Depending on the assessment, determine the next steps. If the employee has met the goals, acknowledge their success and discuss how to maintain this level of performance. If improvement is still needed, consider extending the action plan with adjusted goals, exploring additional support, or termination.
Throughout the 6-Week Period:
Maintain open lines of communication. Encourage the employee to ask questions and seek guidance as needed.
Provide resources and support promptly to ensure the employee has what they need to succeed.
Document all interactions, feedback, and progress for future reference and discussions with HR.
Keep the employee motivated by recognizing their efforts and improvements, even if they haven't fully reached their goals yet.
These meetings merge constructive feedback with a genuine commitment to professional growth. Check-ins can be a part of your regular meetings, but be sure to give at least 30 minutes to the topic, and make it clear that you’re moving from typical 1-1 discussions into a deeper discussion about the PIP.
The advice and input provided in this series is just that - advice and input. It’s strongly recommended that if you’re considering termination or a performance improvement plan (PIP), you speak with an HR professional and/or legal counsel.
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