Monday, April 16, 2012

The 5-Step Performance Improvement Plan - Last Stop Before the Door

I'm surprised at the paranoia among business owners and CEBI members over terminating someone. Perhaps the HR Consulting industry has promoted seminars to a tipping point that's convinced people they're surely going to get sued for firing someone. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, it does happen in isolated cases, and when it does it's messy. But it doesn't happen very much. In 40 years of terminating well over 100 people, I've never had a finding against me, either administratively or legally.

To avoid a claim of wrongful discharge or age discrimination, everyone says "document, document, document." Does that mean it takes two years to build a case? No.

A simple approach to documenting non-performance will keep you in the clear 98%+ of the time, and will take you 90 days or less. Here are the steps:
  1. If it's the first time you've had a specific, direct conversation about the performance deficiencies, pull out your Crucial Conversations book. In case you or a key manager of yours needs some training, this book is taught in the CEBI Leadership Mindset Workshop, coming up on August 1-3, 2012 in Cleveland, OH. After making your way through the Crucial Conversations script, finish with something like, "Bob, I know you can correct this problem, and I need you to understand that if we have to discuss this again, we'll be talking about a Performance Improvement Plan with a specific timeline to get it fixed."
  2. If Bob is the performance problem you think he is, he'll foul up again. When that happens, go back to the Crucial Conversations script, finishing with, "Bob, when we talked about this last time, I told you we were going to create a Performance Improvement Plan for you. I'd like to see you day after tomorrow to go over that."
  3. When you meet with Bob, have a specific written list of the performance deficiencies, along with the specific performance milestones Bob has to meet in the next 30, 60 and 90 days. Those need to be aggressive, but potentially reachable. Say, "Bob, it's imperative you meet these milestones. If you don't, I'll have no choice but to terminate you for non-performance. If you don't think you can get there, just let me know and we can make arrangements for you to look for a position that's a better fit for you."
  4. Bob may take you up on your offer, in which case you can say, "Bob, if you want to resign and go look for something else, I'm fine with that. If that's the case, we'll provide 2 weeks' pay to tide you over while you're looking." Then help Bob draft that up, get him to sign it, help him clean out his desk, hand in his keys, and help him out the door. Same day. Tell him he can come back 2 days later to pick up his final check. Do not keep Bob on the payroll after he knows he's going to be terminated. You'd be amazed at how many job-related injuries such people have.
  5. If Bob decides to stick it out, just keep track of the milestones, document the misses, and your problem is over in 90 days or less. Then sit down with Bob, saying, "Bob, it looks like this just isn't going to work out. Today's your last day. I need your keys and I have a box here so you can clean out your desk. Here's a packet with everything you need to know about your benefits continuation options." Then walk Bob out to the door. Same day. Bob can pick up his final check 2 days later, or whenever payroll runs.
This is not that big a deal. I've had it work out in each of the above ways. In a few cases, Bob just hasn't "gotten it" before, and responds to your direct approach, shapes up and the problem is solved. In many cases, at steps 3 or 5 where Bob figures out it's going to get ugly he'll go find another job - either before or within the 90-day Performance Improvement Plan window. For even hard-core cases, when they figure out you've set targets that they've consistently missed they'll think long and hard before claiming they "had no idea" they weren't performing (and were wrongfully discharged).

In the words of one of my favorite business books, Fire Someone Today, there are only 3 sentences to step 5:

  1. "You're fired" 
  2. "Here's what you need from me"
  3. "Here's what I need from you"
Keep it simple, and you'll avoid the gremlins that have crept into the termination process.  Do your senior managers a favor, and teach them this process also.   You'll be amazed at the people they've been waiting to fire, and thought you didn't want them to.  

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International
Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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