PIPs are often perceived as a formality for an underperforming employee before they are ultimately let go. That sounds bleak for a practice intended for “improvement”. So let’s flip this on its head by looking at ways to enhance them.
The bright side of performance improvement plans
When conducted properly, PIPs help identify and provide additional support and training opportunities to ensure employees are given the tools they need to succeed in their roles. Additionally, they’re also great for employees who feel unfulfilled in their roles.
While some attrition is generally viewed as a good thing for business growth, PIPs give HR the opportunity to convert untapped potential into optimum performance.
Think about a time when that extra bit of training led to a complete 180 in performance or improved motivation of an employee. It’s a win-win situation for the employee and the business!
Together with a performance management system like intelliHR, you can enhance your performance improvement plans to empower underperforming employees effectively. Here are some ways to do so:
- Put a support plan in place
- Document information with diary notes
- Identify employee career and development goals
- Assign side projects of interest
- Drive performance management with continuous feedback
Due to the negative perception towards PIPs, it’s important your employees feel supported through what is frequently a daunting process. Too often we are quick to deliver feedback of sub optimal performance and then leave them to figure out the answers on how to be better. Instead, consider using a structured framework (like the Pendleton feedback model) to give and receive feedback in a way that supports your employee. As a direct manager, this is a critical time to support, encourage, give guidance, get curious, and do the most to ensure improvements are evident in your team member. Once key outcomes have been set to help the employee gauge what’s expected of them, ensure you have regular check-ins, to allow time for feedback.
Another support plan to facilitate this could be by creating a “buddy system” which assigns a more experienced team member to guide the underperforming employee in a less formal capacity. Research has shown that having a work buddy, or even a “work bestie” plays a crucial role in boosting employee performance. These coworkers serve as trusted confidants and supporters, which adds to a positive work culture. Apart from regular feedback sessions with managers, having a buddy can empower the underperformer holistically as it drives culture, motivation and engagement.
How many times have you thought to yourself, “I wish I had made a note of that at the time”? One of intelliHR’s unique features is our Diary Notes function used to support HR and Managers. We suggest keeping records as things occur in real-time and then sharing them with the employee afterward through the platform if appropriate.
Whether it’s to record employee performance goals, areas of improvement, feedback or even to recognize them for a job well done, use this feature to support PIPs. Your memory will thank you for it, plus this avoids any recency bias when needing to recollect any historical events or details.
How often are you and/or managers talking about goals with team members? Is this a once a year event? Set and forget and we don’t talk about them again? Research has shown that shorter-term goals discussed more frequently — say every few months — help increase overall job satisfaction as well as result in higher accomplishment rates.
Our people so often get lost when they don’t have a clear vision they are running towards. Employees want to identify what business objectives they align with, which gives them more confidence to stay, upskill, learn and develop. Consider asking questions about what success looks like for them or what’s something they want to achieve. This is contextual, individual and subject to rapid change. Having these frequent ongoing conversations are an important key to success in an employee’s performance improvement journey.
Use your HR software for goal setting and tracking so employees can see how they are contributing to the overall company goals. This will help them stay focused on the bigger picture, and how they can use the current situation as a stepping stone to get to their desired destination. We need to keep in mind this may not be their forever job, so we should consider how we can, as leaders, help support them to develop and progress professionally.
Ask them, “What does learning look like for you?” Help them understand that they can still grow regardless of a title. Businesses are looking at ways now to promote horizontally vs vertically and these types of career pivots are starting to normalize across industries in comparison to your traditional corporate hierarchical promotion. Ask your employee about their career goals and then identify learning and development opportunities to help them develop in their areas of interest.
By fostering potential career development opportunities through PIPs, the negative perception towards PIPs gets shifted and empowers your employees to move forward positively with your business.
What is your team member passionate about? What are they good at? What is something they have always wanted to dive into deeper?
Work to their strengths. Give them a sense of ownership and job satisfaction by assigning them side projects that will benefit them and the wider team.
For example, let’s say an underperformer in the sales department is about to be put on a performance improvement plan. However, you’re well aware they possess top-notch research and analytical skills. So to play to their strengths, you can assign them a competitor analysis project that encourages them to use those skills. This gives them ownership and confidence over something tangible, and it grows their knowledge base to empower them in their day-to-day sales activities.
Remember, performance improvement can take various shapes or forms. You never know what opportunities may come up that may be more suited to their skills and passions in the future — whether it’s internally or externally.
Continuous feedback plays a crucial role before, during, and after PIPs. For example, you can take the “prevention is better than cure” route to address any concerns raised during feedback sessions and maintain employee performance from needing a PIP. You can use continuous feedback for the same reasons when a PIP is in place as well to gauge its success and adjust it accordingly. Upon completion of a PIP, continuous feedback from the employee can provide insights on its effectiveness, as well as opportunities to improve performance processes.
Scheduling regular check-ins is a key component of continuous performance management. Research from Gallup suggests employees who meet regularly with their managers are almost three times as likely to be engaged.
Some questions worth asking for effective performance conversations during check-ins include:
- How are you feeling? (Sentiment, job satisfaction, stress, etc.)
- How are you tracking towards your goals?
- What went really well?
- What didn’t go well and could require support?
Gathering continuous feedback from these check-ins gives you multiple touchpoints to observe your employee’s performance improvement progress, understand how they really feel, and adjust some of the goals if necessary. Remember, we want our employees to feel motivated and empowered from PIPs, so being proactive, reinforcing good work, and encouraging improvement with continuous feedback will drive effective performance management.
Empowering your people to find a positive resolution from a PIP promotes a culture of accountability within your business. By creating encouraging and effective performance improvement plans, your business can improve its outcomes to create a wave of high performing and motivated individuals.