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Professional Service Agreement

Performance Improvement Plans

Whether it's called a performance improvement plan (PIP), a performance action plan, or a progressive appraisal, the goal is the same: to help employees improve their performance. The PIP is a way to give struggling employees the opportunity to succeed while still holding them accountable for past performance. It is not always clear why an employee has poor performance. Did the employee not receive appropriate training? Does he or she not understand the expectations of the job? Are there unforeseen obstacles in the way? Until you really allow for open dialogue and consistent feedback, you may not have provided an employee the opportunity to succeed in the job.

There several steps recommended for implementing a performance improvement plan:

Identify the Problem

Document the employee's performance areas that need improvement be objective and specific. Provide facts and examples to clarify the severity or pattern of performance concerns.

Develop an Action Plan

The supervisor should establish an action plan for improvement. The plan should include specific and measurable goals that are accurate, relevant, and time-bound (otherwise known as SMART goals). Set realistic goals. If an employee is not performing up to standards, the first goal should be to attain those standards, not surpass them.

Make Consequences Consistent

The consequences for failing to improve should be consistent. While the specific consequences will vary depending on the situation, they should at least be of the same type for example, discipline, transfer, training, etc. Consequences should never be discriminatory for example, one set of consequences for males and another set of consequences for females.

Make Coaching a Part of the Plan

The employee and the supervisor should establish regular follow-up meetings. These meetings should discuss and document progress toward the established goals. The employee should be able to seek guidance or clarification on these performance goals. The supervisor should offer assistance and make certain that the employee has the necessary resources and training to meet performance expectations.

Conclusion of the Process

When the employee has responded positively to the improvement plan by meeting the objectives, you should formally close the PIP and allow the employee to continue employment. If you determine that the objectives were not reasonable or not completely within the employee's control, you may decide to either extend the PIP or end the PIP due to the progress which has been made. If the employee is unable to improve, refuses to commit to the PIP, or his or her performance actually gets worse, then the PIP should be closed and you would terminate the individual's employment.

A final thought ... The PIP is a fair process. It clearly defines for the employee the expectations of the job, where the employee is falling short, and the consequences of not meeting these expectations. In the unfortunate event that termination is the outcome, you can at least know that the employee was given the opportunity to correct course.

SESCO Management Consultants is available to assist with this and other human resource issues. You may contact us by phone at 423-764-4127, or by email at