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Diagnosing The Leadership Root Problem
When someone on your team has been lacking in performance consistently, it is time to have a difficult conversation about improvement. Every performance issue is an opportunity to improve your leadership. Let’s look at two common root problems before going into the core components of the performance improvement plan examples.
Problem #1: Withholding Feedback
People will say that an action plan for performance improvement are not genuine. They are just excuses for the employer to fire an employee and cover their bases. While it is true for some, it is not the ideal use case for performance improvement plans. Many leaders make the mistake of withholding feedback and not giving improvement opportunities earlier. So when they deem it timely to start a performance improvement plan for behavior, there is a low chance of success.
If the above is happening, performance improvement plans are band-aid solutions. The root of the problem is your ability to be aware of feedback and deliver it promptly.
Problem #2: Performance Review System Design Gaps
A performance improvement plan for behavior should not be the first time written documentation is provided. It should also not be the first time where you’re having a performance review conversation with your employee. If that’s the case for you, please troubleshoot your performance review system as it’ll provide long-term benefits to your team potential.
If one or both problems apply to you, I highly recommend you create some action items for yourself beyond implementing this sample performance improvement plan. If neither applies, let’s move on to creating an action plan for performance improvement for your employees.
The Three Components of Sample Performance Improvement Plan
When performance improvement plans are used effectively, they serve the following purposes:
1. It sets SMART goals
- The example of a performance improvement plan spells out SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals for employees to tackle. These SMART goals are based on the current role’s job description or leveling competencies. In describing these goals, it is also critical to describe the acceptance criteria. For example, a SMART goal can be “Please wrap up the XYZ project plan in Google Sheets by the end of the week”. The acceptance criteria for that task can be “The project plan needs to be communicated with stakeholders and has all due dates filled out”.
- Tip: I recommend making at least one of the SMART goals rules of communication. For example, ask your employee to send you daily updates on their progress and blockers so you have more opportunities to unblock them. The acceptance criteria are when you see a list of updates of completed tasks and blockers listed in your DMs by the end of the day
2. It conveys the severity of the performance issues
- Clarity in difficult situations is an act of mercy. The employee needs to know the consequences of not being able to hit the goals. In most cases, the consequence of performance improvement plans is the termination of employment. The second most common consequence is a decrease in scope and demotion.
- When the severity is communicated, your employee may be in shock or have a negative reaction. You can give them the space by pausing after you tell them about the performance improvement plan. You can also agree to the discomfort of the situation. However, it is not necessary to add how anxious you have been to ease the tension. That admittance will likely not make them feel better. The conversation is about the employee and not about you. It is also possible that you will this conversation in segments to give your employees ample time to process the information. You can check out my blog post on feeling your emotions before and after the meeting to ground yourself.
3. It creates channels of frequent and effective communication
- The completed performance improvement plan is not just a documentation of improvement, it is the process of communication. It starts with the introduction and ends with a final decision. In the middle, it is critical to provide frequent check-ins. It will take both parties significant energy to successfully turn the ship around. With that, it is the manager’s responsibility to make time for feedback and more coaching.
- Tip: I recommend weekly check-ins on the performance improvement plan. See below for an example of a performance improvement plan including communications processes. There will be written and verbal feedback exchanged during each subsequent 1-1 following the introduction of a performance improvement plan. At the last 1-1 during the agreed-upon period, you will let your employee know your decision and evaluation of the performance improvement plan.
Given all the above, going through an action plan for performance improvement can be a stressful process. It’s understandable for both employer and employee to feel resistance towards it. Some CEOs will walk through the whole PIP process at the first PIP meeting, and offer an opportunity to the employee to leave if they don’t want to participate.
In summary, a sample performance improvement plan in tech companies sets SMART goals, communicates the severity of performance issues, and promotes regular communication. The process involves weekly check-ins and allows employee feedback.
I wish you all the best with this process. While it’s difficult, it is a necessary skill set for every leader to bring out the best in their teams.
Please consult your employment lawyer and HR professional to be within the regulation of local and country laws with employment. Depending on the type of employment, you may not be obligated to provide a performance improvement plan.