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Managing Poor Performance: Do I really need Performance Improvement Plans?

Many small employers don't feel that they are responsible to document performance management and can just fire when they feel like it... truth is the responsibility to prove termination for cause is for all employers, regardless the size, and proper documentation in performance management provides a fair process for the employee. Note this is regarding performance issues that you don't go straight to termination for (i.e. not extreme misconduct, theft, harassment, etc.).

When I get called into a case it is usually because the performance deviations are at a point where they are pretty serious and the manager has become very frustrated as the employee hasn't improved even after multiple conversations. Unfortunately many of these cases don't have cause and the two biggest mistakes I see are: no performance documentation (even if some discussions happened) or insufficient documentation. Here are some tips to avoid these common errors:

1. Not documenting performance: often times managers are great at having performance talks with their employees and for most employees this is all that is needed. However, some employees require more intervention to correct performance issues and a documented performance improvement plan can be extremely beneficial to ensure the employee knows their expectations and understands the consequences if they don't adhere to the expectations. With a written, signed performance improvement plan it makes it clear and also shows the employee's commitment. If the employee chooses to adhere to the plan then they are performance satisfactory and maintain employment, if they don't then if the consequence is termination for cause that is the result.

2. Not having sufficient documentation: you need to ensure that the performance plan is clear on what the specific performance deviations are, common examples I see here that aren't specific enough are "employee is always late" or "employee has a bad attitude". If attendance is the issue, put in the specific dates and times the employee was late and reasons if provided any. If attitude/demeanour is the issue put in the specific examples, bad attitude can mean a lot of different things, having actual events/examples in there make it clear. Also for the plan ensure that consequences are clearing communicated: this makes it very clear to the employee that if they continue this behaviour they could be terminated for cause. This way there is no surprises if it comes to that and it shows that the employee made a deliberate/willful breach of the plan and fully understood the consequences of that.

I know that managing performance and performance improvement plans aren't always fun, but when done correctly that can have positive impacts on employee performance or if the employee chooses not to comply can support the employer for a termination for cause case. So for the question to document or not, it's up to you but if you don't you may not be giving the employee a fair process/communication and open your business up to unnecessary expenses due to lack of process. To support consistent process and application of performance improvement plans I strongly recommend a Performance Improvement Policy (or Progressive Discipline/Corrective Action) that outlines the steps in managing performance as well as expectations for performance. Lakeland HR offers custom policy development to meet the needs of your organization, contact us today for more information.

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