The subject of what to do when employee performance does not meet a standard comes up fairly frequently in our managerial course discussions. Participants share their experiences of using a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Sometimes, managers talk about using a PIP as a way to move employees out of the organization. But, the purpose of a PIP is just like the name says: to help an employee improve. We discuss that any feedback conversation or PIP action with an employee is intended to help employees change some aspect of their performance or behavior. Managers must approach the employee with positive intent, not with an intent to penalize or punish the employee. Sometimes, managers admit that they are so frustrated or tired of the issue that they resort to threatening, shaming or belittling. In our discussions, we emphasize that while these feelings may be natural, it is imperative that the manager curb the temptation to make cutting remarks. If they don't feel they can do this, they need to excuse themselves and "take a walk." When they have regained composure, they need to calmly let an employee know that the ability and willingness to change is critical to the position. Managers are urged to work with employees to get ideas on how to address deficits. Solutions may be as simple as shadowing an outstanding employee, making schedule adjustments or providing training. In any case, the change must be sustained.
A Performance Improvement Plan is not the same as a Progressive Discipline Action, which may come later if behavior does not improve. In that case, after feedback conversations and a legitimate effort to help an employee, Progressive Discipline Action may be the next step. It usually consists of some combination of a verbal warning, followed by a written warning and finally a suspension or termination, depending up the policies of the organization. But, it is the last resort, not a "go-to" strategy. Employees are valuable to the organization and its reputation in the community. Making every reasonable effort to help an employee improve is less costly and more beneficial than starting over with the search, recruitment and on-boarding process.