Escalate a Performance Problem with a Formal Plan

One of the hardest jobs of a manager is to take an employee down a path that may ultimately result in termination. It is hard enough for most managers to provide performance feedback to begin with – even when the employee performance is good. When the employee performance is not where it needs to be, it is even harder.

The first thing you need to do when you see a performance problem is sit down with the employee, discuss the performance observations, try to determine a cause and put a short-term action plan in place so that the employee has a chance to turn the situation around.

Unfortunately, sometimes the initial performance feedback and short-term plan do not have the desired effect. If this occurs, the manager needs to take additional actions. In some companies and in some positions, the next step might be a demotion or termination. This might also be the case at smaller companies where the management team needs to make personnel decisions quickly, and where the company is not under as many obligations from a Human Resources standpoint.

In larger companies, however, managers normally don’t have the authority to fire employees on their own. The Human Resources Department normally has processes in place to make sure that people are treated fairly and within allowable legal guidelines. If a manager tried to resolve a situation on his or her own but was unsuccessful, it is time to bring a formal Human Resources process into play.

Managers sometimes hesitate to take personnel-related actions because of their concern for how the rest of the team will react. If the employee is a popular one, there is a tendency to believe that the team will react negatively. In fact, that might be the case if the manager acts arbitrarily. However, if the manager gives an employee plenty of time to improve his or her performance but the problem does not go away, termination may still be necessary. In this situation, the manager should be able to explain to the rest of the team how every effort was made in the employee’s favor. The rest of the team should understand first-hand that the employee’s performance was weak. Also, they should understand that replacing that employee is in the best interest of the team, the entire organization and perhaps in the employee’s best interest as well.

A team knows its weak links. In many situations, the rest of the team ends up working harder to compensate for the person with the weak performance. In the best cases, the team does so willingly (and perhaps subconsciously), but their actions mean that they cannot be effective. In the worst case, teammates start to turn against the poor performer, causing resentment, animosity and friction among team members.

Sometimes a perceived performance problem hits the team member totally by surprise. However, in most cases, they already understand the situation. Poor performers should see that they are missing deadlines or that “completed” work requires a lot of rework. Once they get on a short-term improvement plan, they become keenly aware of whether or not their performance is meeting expectations. If they still cannot meet expectations, it will become increasingly obvious to them. This situation will cause them more anxiety, which can drive performance down even lower. The situation should be resolved as soon as possible for the sake of the employee as well as the organization.

Remember that putting a formal performance plan in place is not the same as termination. The performance plan is really a way to save the person from possible termination. A good performance plan puts everything into black and white, and it should precisely set expectations. The performance plan should include the length of the plan, the expectations and how the progress will be communicated.

Once the performance plan is signed, it is activated. The employee should strive to meet the expectations of the performance plan. The manager must provide ongoing feedback on the employee’s performance and whether the employee is meeting expectations. This entire process is set up to manage expectations. If the employee is not meeting expectations, the manager must continue to say so in the ongoing written feedback. This ensures there are no surprises.


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