By Ryan Kh

Earlier this week, Mark Allen wrote a great piece here on the importance of writing a great employee improvement plan. He made some great points on why performance improvement plans are needed. I thought it would be a good idea to expand a little further and focus on the how.

Employee performance improvement plans require a lot of thought. Here are some guidelines that you will want to follow.

Begin With Performance Expectations

When employees fail to meet performance expectations, managers tend to believe the employee is at fault. However, the problem is often at least partially due to unclear expectations. According to a study from ComPsych, 31% of employees cited unclear performance expectations as their top source of stress.

You have the opportunity to rectify this mistake while creating a performance improvement plan. You should be very specific with expectations.

Address the Performance Deficit

Once you have outlined the expectations you want the employee to meet, it’s important to measure where they fall short. Here are some examples:

  • The employee is chronically half an hour late to work.
  • The employee doesn’t contribute enough during meetings.
  • The employee regularly misses quotas by 15%.
  • The employee struggles to get work in by designated deadlines.

Don’t focus too heavily on the degree to which the employee fails to meet expectations. Some of these deficits can be quantitively measured, while others cannot. Even if you can measure the spread between employee expectations and performance, it isn’t constructive to dwell on it. You want to focus more on the need for improvement, rather than ostracizing them.

Identify the Root Cause of the Deficit

You can’t address the problem without understanding the underlying cause. You will need to work closely with the employee on this step, because you may make erroneous assumptions about the reasons for their performance shortfalls.

For example, if he or she regularly misses sales quotas, you may assume that it is due to a lack of sales abilities. Your first inclination may be to provide more training on dealing with customers. However, they may actually have problems identifying sales leads.

A chronically tardy employee may not be late at all. They may just be too absentminded about signing in.

This is one of the steps that will require the most thought, because it’s so easy to make bad assumptions. The employee themselves may not know what the root cause is, so it may be a good idea to get feedback from their direct supervisor and coworkers as necessary.

Come Up with Reasonable Solutions

A performance improvement plan is effectively worthless without tangible solutions.  Your solutions need to:

  • Be easily actionable
  • Directly address the root problem
  • Be proven to be effective

It’s important not to focus on disciplinary measures. You may need to bring them up at a later date if the employee continues to fail to meet expectations. However, most employees perform better when they don’t the fear of losing their job.

Consider the two scenarios listed above.

Difficulty Generating Sales Leads

The ideal solution may be to require them to get more training on sales prospecting or get someone else in your organization to procure leads for them.

Forgetting to Sign In

This could be a very solution to deal with. You may want to either have supervisors start tracking employees or put the employee time clock in a more visible location.

Follow-up Regularly

Employee improvement is going to be an ongoing process. You need to check in regularly and continue to give feedback as necessary. Some employees take longer to come around, so try to be patient without being too much of a pushover.

Ryan Kh is an experienced blogger, digital content & social marketer. Founder of Catalyst For Business and contributor to search giants like Yahoo Finance, MSN. He is passionate about covering topics like big data, business intelligence, startups & entrepreneurship. Follow him on twitter: @ryankhgb