There are two kinds of Performance Improvement Plans or PIPs as they are commonly called. The first is one that is going through the motions to document performance and the need for improvement. This is for the employee that probably needs to go, but this is the last chance for them to get it together. And, to be frank, you don’t care if they make it or not. That’s really not the kind we are going to talk about today. The second and what we will focus on is a true Performance Improvement Plan for an employee that you see potential in, but are going to have to let go if they can’t get it together. It is for the person that really has a chance to be successful and that you really want to succeed. So, if you and your employee fall into that first category, download a PIP online and document, document, document until you have enough documentation to fire them or it’s clear they can improve enough to stay. If you fall into the second category, keep reading in the spirit of kindness, growth, and accountability.

Basics first. What does their job description say? What does your policy and procedure manual say? If you just had the “oh no” moment because you don’t have those, it’s okay, but be honest with yourself. Let’s not put anyone on a PIP that has no job description or policy and procedure manual. Start by building those (Think HR has great online tools). Then, revisit the PIP. People deserve to know what is expected of them and legally you want these in place to protect yourself.

So, the job description and the company policies back up that they aren’t performing to standards. How do their performance evaluations look? Have they had one? If not, start there. If so, reference it (for missed growth goal or decline in performance). Do you do one-on-ones with them? We recommend these at 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and then quarterly after that. Have you talked about the need to improve in the one-on-ones? If so, great. If not, maybe start with that and document with a follow-up email recapping the conversation.

A performance improvement plan should be tangible and measurable. What are the shortcomings? Can you identify the root causes? What do you want the employee to accomplish? How do you want them to accomplish it? Is there training available that can support them? What are the landmarks along the way? How do you measure success? And, what happens if they don’t succeed? Demotion? Helping them find their next job?

For example, let’s use tardiness. And, let’s say this employee is good otherwise, but the tardiness is a problem for the workflow and for other employees to the point that it is jeopardizing their job. First, be clear that tardiness is the issue. If work starts at 8:00 am, pulling in the parking lot at 8:00 am is late and walking in the door at 8:00 am is late. If work starts at 8:00 am, they should be at their desk (or wherever they work), coffee in hand, and clocked in by 8:00 am, so really at their desk clocking in at 7:59 am. It means ready to work at 8:00 am. Ready to answer the phone and respond to emails at 8:00 am. Not getting settled at 8:00 am. As an employer, nothing is worse than someone rushing in, clocking in, then grabbing coffee, chatting, and going to the bathroom before returning to their desk ready to work. If this is happening, say that it isn’t okay. Share specific days and times that they were tardy. Caution: Don’t get sucked into an argument about whether or not they were late on those days. If it seems relevant, share the effects on the workplace of anyone being late (delays to customers, inconvenience to co-workers). Don’t ask for reasons why they are late on each date. You don’t want to get into a list of excuses. But, you do want to get to a root cause. So, ask if there are barriers in place that make it hard for them to get to work on time. Once you have a clear idea of the barriers, what can you do about them? Can you coach them on how to overcome them (leaving home earlier, alternative parking)? Are there barriers that just set them up to fail? For instance, if their baby can’t be dropped off at daycare until 7:45 am, but they have to be at work at 8:00 am and the daycare is 20 minutes away, they are set up to fail. Is it your problem? No. Would it be possible to have their workday start at 8:15 am? If so and they are worth it, do it.

Then, schedule regular check-ins to discuss progress. It’s your chance to give the employee feedback about how you think it is going and ask what support and resources they need. It is the employee’s chance to talk about how they believe they are doing, roadblocks they are encountering, and the support they need. Assuming the employee is genuinely trying, be clear and direct, but also be their resource. Think of it as a mentoring opportunity (either for your company if they are successful or their next job if they aren’t). The more tangible feedback you can offer the better.

Finally, if it isn’t going to work out, tell them. Be up front and figure out how to smoothly transition them out of your company. Maybe they need to just be done today. Maybe they get two weeks notice with some flexibility for interviewing. Or, maybe they have a month. Whatever you decide, put it writing and wish them well.