Performance Improvement Plans Are Not A Punishment

Recently I was in London for our Happiness Leadership meetup. It was an amazing opportunity for us to both teach and learn from each other, as well as connect with each other in a way we honestly don’t have time or opportunity to do regularly. It was a really helpful and productive four days together and I left with lots of ideas, takeaways, and book recommendations I’m sure I’ll blog about in the near future.

During our meetup I gave a presentation to the group called “A Guide to Performance Improvement Plans”, an overview of how the process works at Automattic as well as things I’ve learned in my own experience. During my first experience with this process I found it a bit overwhelming because I was learning as I went, which added unnecessary stress that I hoped to save my fellow leads from.

Overall I received a lot of positive feedback about my presentation afterwards and it seemed to go well! At the end of the talk when I asked if anyone had questions, there was one in particular I felt would be great to share my response to in a blog post. The question was essentially:

Performance Improvement Plans are not intended as a punishment, but they still feel that way to many. Why do you feel they aren’t a punishment and how do we present it to team members that way?

I get it. If someone came to me and said your performance is not up to par and we need to put you on a Performance Improvement Plan I’d be upset and feel like it was a punishment at first too. It’s hard not to feel that way when you receive news like that right? There are also a lot of negative stories out there about these plans being used as tools to get people fired that aren’t helping matters either.

In reality, Performance Improvement Plans are intended to be a collaboration between a lead or manager and their team member to help them improve so they aren’t let go. Bottom line, they’re a tool. A very serious tool yes, but at the end of the day they are a tool to help someone improve and be successful so they can stay in their role.

There are two things in particular I believe are important to communicate to team members, the first before, and the other during, to help reinforce this point with people.

If I need to move to formal goal setting with team member and I think they both might need a plan and could be successful on it, I try to be up front with them about the possibility. For instance explaining – “These goals are to help you to succeed in this role long term. If you’re unable to meet them, it is possible we’ll need to consider a performance improvement plan in the near future. I’m here to help and support you however I can to help you avoid needing that step.”

It’s instrumental to convey to your team member that you believe in them and are here to support them in their role. A positive mindset combined with their eagerness to improve can make all the difference sometimes.

Should you need to move to a Performance Improvement Plan though, it’s important to reiterate all of this again. Your team member needs to trust and share their struggles with you openly during the process so you can help them be successful. You are their ally and support system, providing them feedback and whatever tools you can to help them grow and improve. If they don’t trust that you believe in them, they might not believe in themselves or be open with you about what they really need help with.

Some other ways I recommend showing your support are:

  1. Be encouraging! Remind them how they’ve grown or review things they have done well in the past. Remind them of their abilities and successes (and do this throughout the process).
  2. Ask them what is worrying them and how you can help. Consider asking why three times to drill into the deeper causes of their problems.
  3. Encourage them to keep notes throughout their day of things that go well or things they struggle with and to share them with you. Take a closer interest in their day to day work and help them review their notes to look for patterns to learn from.

What are your thoughts on Performance Improvement Plans feeling like a punishment? How do you show team members you believe in them when they are struggling?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s