Many managers use performance improvement plans to help team members meet their targets. Performance improvement plans are particularly common in a sales environment, where the delivery of monthly revenue or growth targets is critical to the company. These plans can help businesses quickly address problems with particular people, but managers don't always use the approach effectively, and the process can actually sour workplace relationships. The following tips can help managers learn how to use performance plans effectively.
1. Keep the scope simple
Performance improvement plans are most effective when they target a single skill or behavior. You can track this with multiple targets or goals, but if the plan tries to cover too many performance issues, it's likely that your team member will feel overwhelmed. For example, if your team member is missing sales targets because they aren’t making enough outbound phone calls to generate leads, focus the plan on achieving a daily call target.
Don't make the mistake of setting additional goals for conversations, because you can’t control how many pick up the phone, nor leads because you can’t control how many say they are interested, nor sales because they don't control how many will be ready to buy. Leave alone other personal goals. Remember that it's important to fix one thing at a time.
To hit your weekly sales target, if you need 100 dials to have 20 conversations, which yield 3 prospects and 1 sale, unless you get to 100 dials that week you aren’t ever going to get the target.
2. Keep the timescale short
The point of a performance improvement plan is to help your team member meet his or her goals as quickly as possible. A plan that covers many months will take too long to complete, and there are too many other distractions that can cause problems along the way. Set targets for the next two-four weeks, and then review what happens after that. Make it clear that this is a short-term plan, and that you expect your team member to make this a top priority. It's important to create a sense of urgency, or your people won't respond properly.
3. Offer your full support
Your team member could struggle to meet targets for a number of reasons. It's your responsibility to help people overcome obstacles, so make it clear how you will support the employee throughout the life of the plan. Create opportunities for coaching, identify training needs and suggest ways that the person can develop his or her skills. Or better still, show them how to do it. Spend an two hours on the phone and make 20 calls (only if you can do it better!) Make it clear that the team member has to own the plan, but offer your support from start to finish. A performance improvement plan should never feel like a punishment.
4. Stay close to the detail
Many performance improvement plans fail because the manager doesn't check in on a regular basis. You cannot set a plan and then just review the outcome once at the end of the period. It's important that you meet with the team member as often as possible, to check progress and to offer further advice and feedback. Don't just rely on informal conversations. Use facts to measure progress, and share your evidence throughout the review period. It's important that you are as open and honest with the team member as possible.
5. Commit to the outcome
Many employees respond well to a performance improvement plan, and managers often see the positive change that they are looking for. In some cases, the team member doesn't respond so well, and he or she still struggles to meet the standard. This means that you need to think carefully about what happens next and follow through. If you fail to take any further action, the process just becomes a waste of time, so it's important to commit to taking things further, if necessary. If you show your resolve to see an improvement, your people are much more likely to take the process seriously.
Performance improvement plans can quickly help team members meet the standards that you set, but the process isn't easy, and managers must offer their full commitment. Use these plans sparingly, taking time to focus on the most important performance issues, and you can see genuine improvement in performance as well as morale.
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