Is a performance improvement plan an effective way of nurturing top talent?

performance improvement plan

We know that you don’t want to lose great employees – and, we know that it’s expensive if you do.

So, if top talent or a promising individual starts taking strain, losing motivation or disengaging and their performance is affected, proactive organizations look to means of supporting the employee and getting them back on track (rather than risk losing them).

Some organizations choose to do this in the way of a performance improvement plan (PIP) – a formal document outlining performance issues and the steps that need to be taken for the employee to get back to a point of good standing at the organization.

But, as you may know, even if the company has the best of intentions, the employee’s reaction to a PIP being introduced might not go down so well – and the reasons are understandable.

The end of a road or the chance to course-correct?

It’s hardly surprising that PIPs are dreaded by employees. In many cases, they’re viewed as a precursor to being dismissed (and sometimes, they are). For this reason, they have the potential to spark the opposite effect to the desired one.

Rather than motivating employees – accepting the plan as an opportunity to course-correct, learn and grow deeper into the organization’s DNA – performance improvement plans may make the employee feel worried and despondent, causing them to disengage. And unfortunately, this kind of response to a PIP might even have a ripple effect on the employee’s team or colleagues, affecting morale.

The risk of a negative, and potentially detrimental, response occurring is especially high when communication is poor, the desire to invest in the employee isn’t expressed, and the necessary tools and support aren’t given to ensure a successful outcome.

Turning performance improvement plans into a positive experience

Some would make a case for eliminating PIPs altogether in today’s modern work world. But, of course, there are times that intervention is required to ensure employees are performing at their best, and some leaders may still deem PIPs a necessary component of their organization’s performance and retention strategies.

To turn the experience from a fear-invoking one into a meaningful growth opportunity, there are a number of supporting elements that organizations should focus on when helping employees back onto the right track towards optimum performance. These include:

Keeping channels of communication open

To effectively introduce a solution, it’s important to understand why the employee’s performance has taken a dip. Is there support, guidance or training that they need that could resolve matters? Establishing open channels of communication will help you identify areas of concern and to address them appropriately.

The employee will likely also feel more supported (rather than ‘punished’ as some people might), knowing that they are able to ask questions or communicate any bumps they experience along the way (also see the importance of real-time feedback here).

For the employee to start their PIP on the right foot, it’s essential that they know what is expected of them, how to get to that point, and by when they need to reach their goals.

Introducing mentorships

Going through something like a PIP might make some people feel insecure and isolated, which is exactly the opposite of what you want when you’re trying to get an employee to remain a part of your organization, well connected to its DNA.

Even in ‘regular circumstances’, mentorships are a fantastic way for employees to learn from more experienced professionals, so there’s a lot to be said about giving an employee going through a performance improvement plan a helping hand by connecting them with a mentor. The mentor may be able to share some great insight on staying focused on the goals at hand and how to achieve them. They could also help the employee feel motivated, supported and connected as they go through the PIP process.

Facilitating learning opportunities

While facilitating learning opportunities during an employee’s PIP may depend on the underlying concerns and timelines, this is an effective way of remedying certain situations. An employee might be struggling to keep up with industry advancements, for example, and might just need a short course to brush up on the latest information.

Identifying this gap and providing a way to close it could be the difference between losing a valuable employee and setting them up for success.

Ultimately, a PIP could be viewed as an opportunity in and of itself to learn, adapt and grow – and encouraging your employees to see it this way shows that you recognize their potential and want them to stay a part of your organization.

Put the emphasis on performance management

As mentioned earlier, we recognize that PIPs may have their place in some organizations, but we also continuously look to the fact that the work world is evolving. Influences like technology and different generations’ viewpoints and expectations are forcing companies to look at their strategies and processes through a different set of lenses.

What do today’s employees want? And, how are companies adapting to keep these employees motivated, engaged and performing excellently, in line with organizational objectives?

We recently looked at what performance management entails and we noted that this comprehensive approach touches on every phase of the employee lifecycle as an overarching strategy. Its purpose is to establish a work environment that allows employees to perform to their best ability.

As such, when comparing this approach to a PIP, you could think of performance management as a preventative measure rather than a ‘cure’, or a continuous element of an employee retention strategy.

Rather than reacting to a situation when employees’ performance dips, take a proactive approach to equipping employees with the resources, communication channels, support and opportunities they need to excel throughout the employee lifecycle.

Equip yourself with the right performance management tools

With modern performance management tools – like ours – you can easily, confidently and effectively manage your workforce’s performance, helping them remain engaged and delivering at their best.

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