For the most part, people don’t leave jobs, they leave people. Employees complain more about not getting along with their boss than they do about their paycheque. One reason for this is the lack of effective communication. Successful organizations create pathways for two-way communication to occur, so employees can visualize the link between their work and the overall goals of your business. This, in turn, fosters job satisfaction, buy-in and commitment. When organizations use performance improvement plans (PIPs) to conduct meaningful conversations, they can greatly enhance organizational culture.
Unfortunately, many companies miss the mark with this useful corporate process. At best, supervisors dust off PIPs to grudgingly perform annual evaluations prior to handing out pre-determined raises. In many cases, employers do not tie performance improvement reviews to any form of reward or recognition, and at their worst, organizations use them as an instrument for discipline.
Purpose of Performance Improvement Plans
Getting rid of performance evaluation plans altogether may not be the answer. At the core, they serve valid HR functions. First, managers use them to provide feedback to employees about their performance. Secondly, they allow for proper documentation of behavioural changes. And finally, PIPs arm supervisors with insights that permit them to assign responsibilities and equivalent remuneration. Most important of all, organizations rely on these record-keeping protocols when faced with lawsuits.
The problem with performance improvement plans lies in their execution. When managers change the paradigm and treat employee evaluations as a means of communicating with their subordinates, PIPs take on a whole new meaning.
Performance Improvement Plans: Real-time Feedback
Adept managers know how to get the most out of their staff. Accordingly, introducing flexibility into the performance improvement plan’s process can improve it greatly. Allow them to use their own approaches to develop and grow their team’s productivity.
This new process involves regular, but brief check-in meetings designed to address how to help specific employees improve their performance or behaviour. Examples include an initial meeting to review a struggling employee’s training needs. This can be followed by several check-ins to see how the training is progressing. And finally, the series can conclude with an evaluation of the employee’s improvement after the training.
The objective and ensuing discussions at each meeting should still be captured in writing as a series of brief but official HR records, which your employee should sign and receive as a copy. This collection of documents will provide the basis for your feedback and appraisal during the annual performance evaluation meeting. You reduce surprises and subjectivity when performance issues are managed throughout the year in small bites, and in real-time.
You could introduce further efficiencies into your performance improvement plan process by spending your time where it is needed the most. In any organization, departments can cluster their employees by three characteristics. Star performers exceed expectations and contribute greatly to the business success. They require minimal guidance, and without question, you should reward them with excellent raises, bonuses and job promotions when the time arrives. Pouring over detailed performance improvement plans with them remains pointless. They get it.
At the other end, you will find a few employees who struggle. A performance improvement plan can become the format for communicating with them regularly to develop skills, improve behaviour and track progress.
A majority of your workers will likely be sandwiched between these two extremes. They form a core of hardworking, but unremarkable employees for whom performance improvement plans rarely change anything. Managers may choose to swiftly breeze through these annual evaluations and slate them for standard merit increases and appropriate promotional opportunities.
It would be ridiculous to imagine any organization functioning effectively if discussions about critical matters only took place once or twice a year. Yet, traditional performance improvement plan processes foster exactly this behaviour. They generally take place annually or bi-annually and in some cases, even less frequently. And they fall short because of this disconnect. They demoralize employees and put high-performing employees on the defensive. At many organizations, managers consider them a drain on their time. They remain a time-consuming and costly exercise that nobody likes.
Conversations about developing and growing the productivity of your team should take place as often as required and Performace Improvement Plans offer you an avenue to execute this for success. If your program adds little value to your productivity or the bottom line, why not improve it?
About the Author
Susan Heim is the president of Equity Career Transition and Outplacement Services. We provide cost-effective outplacement and HR consulting for organizations, large and small, in both the private and public sectors. Equity also offers personalized coaching to individuals in their quest for the perfect job and career, where we can work with candidates in person as well as remotely.
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