How to Develop an Employee Performance Plan

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Published 4/25/2015

No manager likes dealing with difficult employees, but every manager will be faced with them throughout their careers. The behaviors of difficult employees often result in performance issues.

It is not always clear to a manager why an employee is struggling with performance issues. The employee could be allowing personal issues to spill into the workplace; perhaps onboarding and training were not effective.

There may be unforeseen roadblocks in the way of an employee’s performance, or perhaps the person is just a poor hire. Whatever the reason (or reasons) may be, it is critical to identify bad behavior and manage those individuals quickly so that they do not negatively impact employee morale.

Developing an Effective Employee Performance Plan

One of the most effective ways to manage difficult employees is using a 90-day performance improvement plan. These plans, when structured and executed properly, can help coach an employee through the steps needed to change their behavior. If employees are unable or unwilling to change, a 90-day performance improvement plan will give leaders the vehicle to transition those team members out and make room for more productive team players.

Here are the steps to follow when developing an effective plan:

  1. Don’t Ignore The Facts. Bad behavior is, unfortunately, subjective in many cases. Therefore, when dealing with difficult employees, it is essential to focus on the facts and not to ignore them when issues come to light.
  1. Don’t Act On Rumors.  There are few places as rife with rumors as a corporate office. Managers aren’t the only ones who notice bad behavior, but the odds are that team members are all too happy to share their own stories of frustration when it comes to difficult employees. Never act on information received third-hand. Always verify facts in any given case, and disregard anything that has not been proven to be true.
  1. Develop An Objective Performance Plan. The key word in performance plan is “performance.”   In order to change bad behavior, managers should focus on the employee’s performance and their behaviors, rather than personality issues. How is bad behavior impacting the employee’s own effectiveness and the effectiveness of the team? Provide clear feedback surrounding the reasons why the behavior needs to change, and clearly outline the ways in which that behavior impacts others.
  2. Set Clear Consequences. An employee on a performance plan should be clear when it comes to setting consequences for failing to change behavior. Outline the consequences in writing, review them with the employee and allow plenty of time for questions. Have the employee sign a paper indicating an understanding of the performance plan and the consequences for not meeting its stated goals.
  3. Follow Up With Regularly. Performance plans are designed to give employees the time and the resources to step up their performance if, in fact, they want to improve. However, they cannot do it alone. Managers should check in weekly with the employee to review progress.
  4. Coach With Consistency. Dealing with difficult employees can be taxing. There may be days when it’s just too exhausting to have the same conversation with the same employee one more time. However, consistency is critical to changing behavior. Managers should not ignore a behavior on a Tuesday, then confront the employee with the same bad behavior on a Thursday. Consistency is critical when coaching an employee through a performance plan.

    Avoiding The Time Trap

    One of the biggest mistakes that managers make when dealing with difficult employees is spending too much time on them. Constantly dealing with difficult employees and poor performers sends the wrong message to those team members who perform well and have a strong sense of what it means to be a team player.

    The beauty of a 90-day performance improvement plan is that it is clear and finite. The employee knows what he or she must do to improve, and at the end of the period they have either changed for the better or they will move on. In many cases, difficult employees will self-select out of the process.

    They may believe that the writing is on the wall once they are put on a performance improvement plan, and therefore seek out new opportunities. Even when those employees don’t move on, the manager can be confident that they tried their best to improve the situation, and the employee was truly not a good fit for the team.

    It’s never easy to navigate the waters when a difficult employee is swimming around the team. Working with and coaching these employees is a skill that takes time to develop. However, when managers can identify problem employees, it is much easier to manage them (or remove them), allowing strong performers to move the team toward success.

    Beth Armknecht Miller is a Certified Managerial Coach and CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. Her latest book, “Are You Talent Obsessed?: Unlocking the secrets to a workplace team of raving high-performers is available on Amazon.