There are many philosophies and lines of thought on carrying out a performance improvement process with your employees. Probably as many as there are in terms of how to discipline your kids and, honestly, there is probably some overlap. The root of a consistent, equitable, defensible performance improvement process is communication and documentation.
Document and communicate what you are trying to achieve
It starts with ensuring that you know what behavior and goals you are trying to achieve and that those are DOCUMENTED and then COMMUNICATED to your employees. It would surprise you to know how often I hear that Susie is not following the rules or that Tom is not meeting his goals, when, in fact, the manager has never sat down with Susie or Tom to explain the rules to them, help them to understand the goals and ask if they have any questions.
Catch infractions early
The next part that always catches me off guard is when the manager comes into my office and is ready to terminate someone that day. All of these offenses and infractions have been building up for months and now the manager simply cannot go another minute with this employee. My first question is always “Have you COMMUNICATED these issues to the employee and DOCUMENTED them in writing. Nine times out of 10, the answer is “no”. Conflict is uncomfortable, but a necessary part of managerial life and especially necessary in a performance improvement process. It doesn’t have to be exceptionally unpleasant or result in a screaming match; in fact it can be very matter of fact and held in a normal tone of voice. If your employee is not doing what you need them to do, you have to let them know and the sooner the better. Do yourself a favor and get into the habit of documenting your conversations so you will have notes to look back on.
Most performance improvement processes consist of some combination of friendly reminders, verbal warnings, first written warnings, final or second written warning and terminations. Exactly what your process is, is less important than two points 1) that you fully communicate the policy and 2) that you remain consistent. Inconsistent application of your policy is the easiest way to lose in front of the EEOC or in litigation. You may not mean to be discriminatory, but if you are not consistent, you run the risk of treating a certain protected class unfairly.
Lastly, follow up. Similar to the first time you tell your child to pick up their clothes, unless you have the world’s most remarkable child, it isn’t going to happen the first time you ask and remain consistent for the rest of their life. Just because you ask your employee to change their behavior, it is going to be necessary for you to remind them. Compliment them if they are improving and bring to their attention when they start to backslide.
Performance Improvement is all about helping your employees to succeed and become valued members of your team!