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Don't underestimate the value of a solid performance management plan

Performance management plans are vital to employee engagement, retention.

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  • | 10:00 a.m. May 11, 2023
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In an increasingly tight labor market, most employers know all too well the value of ample front-end investment when it comes to candidate recruitment and new employee training.

Far too often, though, the time and attention paid to ensuring the latest hire is a good fit falls by the wayside after the first day on the job, as the immediate tasks at hand become the focus of both worker and supervisor.

From the Fortune 500 ranks to mom-and-pop retailers, a robust performance management plan is critical to ensuring that both new and experienced employees have clear expectations and tangible goals as they forge ahead.

Here are some of the key elements of a strong performance management plan:

Focus on frequent feedback, not just the paper trail

Large or small, the annual (or quarterly) performance review is a staple of most businesses these days. Written reviews serve a valuable purpose in both assessing past performance and setting future expectations. But as the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) notes, companies are now “focusing more on feedback and coaching, rather than a time-consuming paper trail.”

If your performance management plan only consists of a periodic, written appraisal, it’s time to do more.

Listen (don’t just talk)

Two-way communication is critical to the performance management process — even if it means having uncomfortable conversations.

A top-down approach to employee management may drive short-term results. But the best bosses understand that overly rigid workplace hierarchies like that can reduce innovation and cultivate quiet quitters. You may find it a challenge to tell Joey he hasn’t made the grade — or hear Joey’s thoughts on how to improve productivity and boost morale — but being a good listener will pay dividends in the long run.

Set realistic, actionable goals

Chasing overly ambitious goals with little chance of coming to fruition is an exercise in futility. Setting the bar too low, on the other hand, could cause employee engagement to plummet. As SHRM notes, goals should be SMART: 

  • Specific, clear and understandable
  • Measurable, verifiable and results-oriented
  • Attainable, yet sufficiently challenging
  • Relevant to the organization’s mission
  • Time-bound, with a schedule and specific milestones.

Constant improvement 

Performance improvement plans remain a valuable tool for course correction when an employee is falling short of expectations or whose performance may require a progressive discipline process to document shortcomings and raise the bar of expectations.

By their nature, such plans can seem (and often are) punitive. Yet note the key word here: improvement. An effective performance improvement plan must not only outline the performance shortfall but also establish actionable, measurable steps to improve performance, and spell out the consequences of continued subpar efforts.

As with the above tips, setting clear expectations with frequent, measurable check-ins is essential. A performance improvement plan that only gets discussed at quarterly sit-downs or the next year’s annual review is doomed to fail. Employees want and need (if not crave) regular feedback. Senior management must be sure to give middle managers the necessary time and resources to foster such conversations in ways both formal and informal.

Christina Faro-Pilliteri is a senior HR specialist with Integrity Employee Leasing, a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) based in Charlotte County. 


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