Lacey Halpern and Brandon Laws discuss how to create and implement corrective action and performance improvement plans. Discussion points include how to manage performance, the difference between corrective action and performance improvement plans (PIP), and the best ways to write, evaluate and measure, correct multiple issues, and document plans.
Brandon: Thanks for joining us. Today we have a returning guest, Lacey Halpern. She is one of the many talented HR Business Partners we have at Xenium and we are glad to have her here to talk about a couple different ways that supervisors can manage performance in their organization. Welcome Lacey.
Lacey: Thanks for having me!
Brandon: Give listeners a sense for what your role is with the clients you work with and the experience you have had in the past in regards to performance management.
Lacey: I provide a variety of different support to the book of clients that I work with. For some clients I am available as a hotline, go-to person just to provide consultation around: What are the appropriate levels of discipline to provide? What are the next steps I should take? How do I get this employee to perform to the level that I think they are capable of?
For other clients I support in reviewing documentation, sometimes I even go out and sit in on meetings with employees and managers to help keep things on track and to make sure that when the meetings are done that the employee has made a commitment to improving their performance. Also that the manager has the skill set and support they need to hold that person accountable.
Brandon: What happens when there are issues with performance? What do you use in that whole process?
Lacey: A common method that a lot of supervisors are probably familiar with is a corrective action. Some people call it a write-up or written warning, verbal warning, or final written warning. I like the word corrective action just because it speaks to the fact that we are trying to correct behavior. A lot of times a corrective action is used if there is a policy that has been violated. For example, if an employee is having attendance issues, not being able to show up for work on time or maybe they are having to leave early all the time, a supervisor could use a corrective action to correct that behavior. There are certain things that you would include in that corrective action to make sure that it can support the employee in improving performance. Corrective actions are typically used for policy violations or procedures that employees are not following such as safety, dress code, those types of things.
Brandon: For somebody, like myself, who doesn’t really know about the corrective action process, it seems to me that it is something that is defined somewhere – there is a right way to do things and if that’s violated then you need to correct that with an employee. Talk about how to write one, if it’s a written document, and then talk about what is included in it to give supervisors who are listening a sense for how they could create one.
Lacey: Starting from a template. If your company doesn’t already have a form to use, it would be a great place to start in creating one so there’s consistency. Really, it should be a tool that managers can access and update. If you’ve got an employee who has an attendance issue, one of the important things to note in the corrective action is: What is the behavior that’s happening that’s out of line, inappropriate or in violation of a policy? It’s important to cite things that are really specific and objective things – dates that things have occurred, witnesses to the incidences. If an employee is using profanity at work, we would include who witnessed it, when it happened, what the employee said, all those details would be included in the description of the incident portion of that corrective action. It’s also really important to cite what the consequences are. We would cite whether the employee is receiving a verbal warning that we are documenting on paper. Sometimes people get confused about that. When managers give verbal warnings, it’s best practice to include that verbal warning on paper. You’ve given the coaching, told the employee what to correct, and we are documenting it. After that conversation, document it on paper and get a signature that the conversation happened.
We’re also including what level it is, so whether it’s a written warning we would note that on there. If it’s a final warning, what happens next? If there are further incidences of this behavior, or maybe even other policy violations, we would note for that employee what the next step looks like. Is it further discipline up to and including termination? Is the next time that person is late going to result in their termination? Let’s call it out on that corrective action so that they know what’s coming. There are lots of reasons for that. It’s really in check with your integrity to be honest with the employee about where they are at as far as performance goes. If their job really is on the line, let’s be clear with them that if we don’t see immediate improvement, if they violate this policy again, they may not have a job with the company anymore.
I feel the most important piece of the corrective action is a plan for improvement. Not only do we have to highlight the areas of opportunity or the policy that’s been violated, but we have to say what our expectations are. If it’s an attendance problem, we are going to call out that they need to be to work on time everyday. If the employee has told you that
they are failing to set their alarm so they can get to work, we might even include in that corrective action plan for improvement section that they need to set their alarm before they go to bed. We would call out what other resources are available. We may refer them to different policies and we may even ask an employee to write their own plan. If we are feeling like there’s a lack of commitment on the employee’s part, that we’ve been having these conversations over and over asking, “Why can’t you get to work on time? What’s holding you back?” We may ask them to write their own comments and own commitment to improving performance and to being committed to following the policy the company has set forth.
Then there is the signature section. There’s a spot for the employee to sign and there’s a spot for the manager to sign. It is absolutely great if you can have a witness in those conversations, especially for newer mangers or supervisors who don’t have a lot of experience either delivering these to employees or writing them it can be helpful to have someone either in Senior Management or someone from HR, or if the company works with Xenium, it’s absolutely something we can provide – either a review of that, or sometimes even participate in those meetings. There’s usually some language in the signature section that talks about the fact that the employment is still at will. It doesn’t change the fact that the company may chose to terminate at anytime. Signing that just reaffirms that type of relationship.
Brandon: What happens if it’s not just one thing that is violated, but what if there are a ton of different performance issues? Not just time, but processes, behavior issues and those sorts of things. What do you do when there are multiple issues not related to the same thing?
Lacey: I have supervisors call sometimes throwing their hands up in the air saying, “I don’t know what to do here, it’s been one thing after another. It’s not just one specific policy that I can point out.” Maybe it’s not even a clearly written policy. Maybe it’s attitude, maybe it’s communication skills, maybe it’s customer service or internal customer service with coworkers and peers. Even those things are important to performance. Sometimes what can be really helpful is a performance improvement plan (PIP). Those are all names that we hear around this type of document. It is similar to a corrective action where we are going to highlight the areas of opportunity.
Let’s say that this particular employee is responsible for sales and they are not meeting sales expectations. They are not hitting their numbers, they’re not making the number of prospecting calls that they are supposed to make, so maybe that is an area of competency that’s lacking. Maybe their communication skills are lacking too so we would cite some specific examples where maybe they’ve sent emails to prospects or new clients that were inappropriate or not in line with the company’s vision, mission or values. Maybe there is an attendance problem too, where they seem to be coming into the office very late in the morning and they leave very early. We would highlight everything and create a plan for improvement – putting in the structures of support that would help the employee.
The piece with the performance improvement plan that’s different from corrective action is that there are scheduled check-ins. It requires a little bit more work on the manager or supervisor side where they are scheduling weekly, even bi-weekly meetings with the employee. There’s a designated timeframe for this plan, so maybe it’s 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, with clear cut goals that the person would accomplish during each of those time periods, and we are checking in consistently. At the end of this plan, maybe even midway through, we really have a clear picture of whether this person is going to be able to meet the goals and then be able to sustain it. It’s the same type of document where the employee signs that they make a commitment to improving performance. It’s usually a little bit lengthier and it usually includes multiple competency areas.
Brandon: It would also seem to me that with the performance improvement plan that it’s a little bit harder to measure. Corrective action to me is when there’s a very clear policy in place and if you violate those policies then it’s either one step or the other that needs to happen right after that. With the performance improvement plan, however, if you don’t have measurable things within the plan, how, as a manager, do you even enforce it?
Lacey: It’s very difficult. A really well written performance improvement plan would include very objective measurable things that the employee would accomplish. If it’s making a certain number of sales calls or maybe it’s the communication problem again so the goal is to have no customer complaints over the next 90 days. A performance improvement plan can be extended too. It’s not like at 90 days if not everything has been met that we are at the place that we have to make a decision to terminate.
When we have a really tenured employee that has been with the company for a long time, it’s an opportunity for the manager to evaluate: “What have I done? Have I failed as a supervisor?” When we get into these performance improvement plan conversations, I can tell pretty quickly whether that manager has been giving direct feedback to the employee if the employee is surprised by the feedback. If we are giving our employees ongoing, constructive, direct, authentic feedback, nothing should be a surprise. If you’ve got a really dedicated manager who is direct with feedback, the employees coming into the meeting should likely expect to get this feedback. The plan is to create a structure of support for them to be successful, that’s the goal.
Brandon: Do you think a manager and employee one-on-one meeting would be an appropriate time to at least touch base on the performance improvement plan?
Lacey: Yes I do. I think that if the manager already has a scheduled monthly one-on-one with the employee, it works to incorporate that into it. I think this is asking the manager to go above and beyond actually. It’s more than a monthly check-in. We would be looking for at least bi-weekly especially if the plan is 30 or 60 days. The person who is on this plan is struggling; they are at the point where if they don’t fix things they are going to lose their job. We want to be at a place as a company to mitigate the risk by providing the ongoing feedback – asking what resources they need, what’s working, what’s not working, so that when we get to the end of this the employee knows where they stand and what the company’s decision is going to be.
Brandon: Speaking about the end of it, sometimes it doesn’t always work out in a positive manner. To mitigate the risks you were just speaking of, what are some good ways to document either the corrective action or performance improvement plan if in fact it doesn’t work out?
Lacey: The improvement plan and corrective should be signed. If an employee refuses to sign it, sometimes managers will say, “I had my meeting but they refused to sign, what does that mean?” It doesn’t mean the conversation didn’t happen, it doesn’t mean that the corrective action or performance improvement plan doesn’t still go in the employee’s personnel file. It just means that that person is maybe refusing to put their name on the bottom of the form. Having a witness in that meeting is great because they can sign and acknowledge that the conversation did happen and another person witnessed it.
In mitigating our risk by documenting this – that is exactly what you are doing. You are putting on paper what happened and acknowledging that you have provided the structure that the person needs to be successful. We’ve provided them with the policy around attendance, or dress code or maybe it’s positive teamwork and communication – we’ve given them all of the information they need to be successful. Now it’s on the employee to make the choice to either follow the policies and improve performance or not.
Brandon: Did you say where it should be stored?
Lacey: Yes, it should be stored in the employee’s personnel file.
Brandon: It sounds like the manager or supervisor needs to play a big part in writing it. If they are not really savvy in terms of HR, who should support that process?
Lacey: Usually the manager is the one who would have the information about what is going on. Every company is different. Some companies have it set up where it has to be something that runs by HR. HR either needs to review it before it’s presented to an employee or they are the ones who are writing it after they’ve done some sort of intake with the manager about what is going on. If you’ve got a consistent process within your company, then that’s probably ideally what you’d want to do. If what you have right now isn’t working, if the ones that are drafted by managers are not effective, they are not improving performance, it’s an opportunity to look at the process that you have in place and see if it can be fixed.
Brandon: As an HR Consultant you have clients that are various sizes, and I imagine this process is different for a five person group compared to a 100-200 person group or even higher than that. With the smaller group, who writes it, who delivers it and who manages it in terms of whether it’s the supervisor or an HR person?
Lacey: In a smaller organization there’s not always an in-house HR person. In those cases it’s usually a manager or maybe it’s the owner of the company who is responsible. For the clients that I work with that are smaller, I am pretty involved in that process. A lot of my clients see the value in being able to consult and have a second set of eyes to read through it. Sometimes it’s just a quick conversation or me providing some sample template language that they can include into those corrective actions.
In the larger companies that I work with, I am more involved when the HR is completely outsourced. When the clients that I work with that have an in-house HR person that I support on the backend, I’m really just providing the consultative approach. They are really responsible for managing their supervisors and managers and making sure they are drafting plans that are effective and improve performance.
Brandon: As we wrap up this topic, is there anything else you want to say about the difference between corrective action and PIP? Or just any advice for folks that are listening?
Lacey: I think it’s really important for the managers and supervisors that are delivering these to read them thoroughly. Make sure you are being objective and that you’ve done a good job of communicating about performance through the life of this employee as they’ve worked with your company. Our job as managers and supervisors is to help our employees thrive and feel fulfilled in the work they do and sometimes that means having these difficult conversations to improve performance. The goal and the way that these really work is if we are standing for our employees to be successful.
Brandon: Thanks for joining us today Lacey, I appreciate it.
Lacey: You’re welcome!