What the $#@% is a PIP?!

A PIP or Performance Improvement Plan is tool a manager gives an employee when performance needs improvement.  The goal is to sit down with the employee and review the issue(s) and set a time frame and action plan for improvement. I like to think of them as a written warning with promise.  I have done PIPs when I have an employee who has a lot of potential and/or some great skills but is lacking in other areas.  I mostly give them to employees who I don’t want to lose and have faith that they are a good fit for the company and will be open to input.  Those who I don’t think will make the cut or are not open to input, I just don’t bother spending the time to write a PIP for.

There are some great templates online, some of which I have linked below.  The PIP form I use is a combination of a few forms I found online and edited to fit my company’s values and culture.

When to do a PIP and when to terminate – If an employee is struggling to hit their goals but they have promise and numerous other great qualities, a PIP is a way to hit the reset button and set a path for success.  If an employee has broken policy (or policies) and is just not working out, you need to head down the road to termination.

What are the goals for a successful PIP? – The goals for a PIP are to speak clearly to an employee about the issues you are seeing in a positive way.  A PIP is not a review, it most likely will contain only negative feedback so you need to find ways to make it helpful and as positive as possible.

What sort of time line should a PIP include? – A successful PIP should include a time frame that is long enough to see improvement but short enough that you are not investing too much time on an employee who is just not going to work out.  You should set goals to check in weekly, biweekly, or at a minimum monthly so that you can discuss and track progress and re structure as needed.

What should a PIP include? – The PIP should include details on the employees duties in which they are under performing and what the expected performance is.  It should include action items that the employee can reference and work to improve, they should be short reminders of what you have discussed in more detail in your PIP meeting. The PIP should include dates for your check ins as well as details on the consequences if performance is not improved.

How to conduct a PIP meeting – As I mentioned, keep the meeting positive, even though the content is negative.  You are basically ripping apart this employee’s performance so they are going to be sensitive to start.  Start by explaining the goal of the PIP is to help them get the training and tools for success. Remind them that you are investing the time because you believe that they are a good fit for your company but their performance in some areas needs improvement. Be clear with your reasoning for the PIP and your action plan for them.  Make sure they understand the issue and all of the tools and training options you are offering for improvement. Ask lots of questions, you never know, the issue may not be the employee after all, it might be the position or your company. End things by reminding the employee of the good they are doing and that you are there for them.

The goal is to help the employee, not put them down. The last thing you want it an employee to walk out of a PIP meeting feeling discouraged.  While a PIP is focused on what an employee is under performing at, it doesn’t have to make them feel like a failure.

Here is a link to a very simple, short PIP template

This website has tons of templates ranging from simple to complex


A Little Appreciation Goes a Long Way

For the first time in my entire work history I feel secure in my job position. I am not fearful that I am going to get fired. I am not paranoid that someone is going to steal my job. I am not worried that someone else is going to outshine me. How many people can truly say that? Until seven years ago I know I couldn’t. So what is the secret? Why is this job different than all the others? One word…Appreciation.

My boss, who is the owner of the company I work for, thanks me every day when I leave. He encourages me, he listens to me, he shows concern for me. The appreciation I am shown at work makes me want to work harder, to learn more, to help the business grow because I feel like I matter and am part of a team. It sounds so simple but that is because it truly is!

The hardest part of showing your employees appreciation is the time. When we are swamped and on a deadline its hard to find the time and energy to even mutter “thank you” at the end of a long day. But its so important to morale, especially when everyone is feeling the stress. Here is a quick list of a few small things that take minimal effort that I like to do for my employees to show them how much I value them.

A simple “thank you” truly matters – Thank your employees when they leave for the day. On extremely chaotic days add in something custom to the individual like “great job today getting all of those orders out, you are a rock star”, or “thank you for going the extra mile with that customer today, you handled that very well”.

Handwritten notes – I keep a stack of thank you cards in my desk and leave little notes for employees when they are having a hard time or did something above and beyond.

Gift cards – I also keep gift cards for $5 for Starbucks or $25 Visa gift cards handy and give them as special thank you gifts when an employee has been working extra hours or hit a goal.

Work lunches – We like to BBQ on random Friday’s when work is overly busy. While it does take a normal 30 minute break to an hour, it revives employees energy and reminds them that we can still have fun when its hectic.

Work outing – We like to plan fun work outings like going to see our local AAA baseball team play or jump around at the trampoline park. Getting together with your employees and co workers outside of work shows them a different side of you, a more human, fun side.

It doesn’t take much to show appreciation to your employees but it goes a long way. Employees who feel appreciated are likely to work harder, more efficiently, and be more permanently invested in your company. When things get chaotic make sure you take the 30 seconds to thank your employees, you will see a huge difference in their attitudes.


How to fire an employee, the right way

By far my least favorite part of HR and management is firing employees. I am guilty of holding on to employees for far to long because I just wasn’t up for firing them or it wasn’t an ideal time to do so. Once I have made the decision to let an employee go I psych myself up so much the night before that I can’t sleep.  Then the morning of the big event I feel sick to my stomach. By the time it comes to sitting down with the employee I am shaking and usually forget most of the things I planned to say. I end up babbling on trying to make them feel better, but the truth is you will not make them feel better about it, they are getting fired! Here are some tips for making termination slightly easier and hopefully keep you out of a lawsuit.

Be prepared – If you are to the point of firing an employee you should have had numerous conversations about their performance issues.  Make sure you have documented the incidents and given them a reasonable amount of time to show improvement. This way it is of no surprise when they get fired and you don’t have to go into details.

Pick an appropriate time – Chose a time when other employees are gone for the day to avoid further awkwardness for the employee. I have read that you should never let someone go on a Friday so they don’t have the weekend to stew and come back angry, however a terminated employee is going to stew no matter what the day is. I actually prefer letting employees go on Fridays because it gives everyone a few days to decompress before the fresh start and changes on Monday.

Be clear – Don’t tip-toe around the point, just get straight to it. “I’m sorry but I have decided to let you go”. You can then give them a short explanation, but keep it short. If you are to the point of firing an employee they should have been provided with plenty of warnings, with the exception of the infraction being so big that they are being fired immediately without warning. You should also give them a termination notice that details the warnings and final reason for termination. You will need this if/when the employee files for unemployment.

Make it quick – Get in and get out. Be clear and don’t go into details, give them their final check (or let them know when they can expect it), termination notice, and have them gather their things.  Do not leave them unattended for too long.

Avoid details – I always make the mistake of thinking that they want to know exactly why they are being let go. They don’t, they want to get out of there as fast as they can to avoid further embarrassment.

Have a witness – I rarely have a witness with me, however I know this is a big mistake.  I once laid off a young man and the way he looked at me as he left made me a little scared for my safety.  That was the last time I let an employe go without a witness. You never know how an employee will react or what they will say after the fact to a lawyer.  To cover yourself and the company, make sure you have someone from HR or another manager with you.

Stay calm – Keep your emotions out of it, no one cares if you are upset, you are not the one losing their job.  I recently had to fire my assistant of two years who was constantly making costly mistakes.  I had written her up, I had suspended her, I had given her coaching and PIPs, but nothing helped, it was time to move on. When the day finally came I waited until everyone had left for the day so we were alone.  I told her I had to let her go, the mistakes weren’t getting better. I cried, she cried, we hugged. I don’t regret how the firing went down, we were close, we were friends, we had spent a lot of time together, I cared for her.  I don’t think there was any way that emotions could have been left out of it.

Meet with your other employees soon after – The day following the termination make sure you meet with your staff and tell them the employee is no longer with the company. Do not go into details, its not their business and no matter what you say it could be misconstrued as gossip. Delegate the jobs to other employees until you have a new team member to take over.  If there was a larger infraction leading to the termination you may feel it necessary to review your policies.  I once worked for a business where an employee was caught on camera coming in after hours and stealing money. The owners had installed cameras when they realized money was going missing.  After we terminated the employee they held a companywide meeting where they asked for a show of hands who all had noticed the cameras. Every employee raised their hand, the only person who had not noticed the cameras was the person stealing. They did not tell us in the meeting that money had gone missing but they reminded us that entering the building after hours was against policy and mentioned that the employee was no longer with us. They didn’t have to tell us what happened, the other employees filled in the blanks and were reminded of the rules.

Letting employees go sucks for everyone involved but its over quick and is usually what is best for the greater good of the company. Don’t hold onto employees that aren’t working out.  You know when enough is enough, you just have to push yourself to take care of it before they start to poison the well.

Here is link to a great article from Jeff Haden for Inc.com called “The 10 Worst Things to Say When You Fire an Employee”.

When to let employees go

Do you have an employee who is constantly making mistakes? An employee who is consistently late or breaking other company policies? An employee who has an awful attitude that alienates other employees or worse yet, clients? We all have them and when it gets down to it we know we should let them go, but we don’t. But why don’t we?

Over the last few years I have found myself in a situation with these types of problem employees numerous times. I have invested hours upon hours talking about these trouble employees to my colleagues and my other managers.  I have spent energy and time coaching these employees and writing PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans). At the end I do make the choice to let them go, but not before a lot of wasted time, energy, and money.  My biggest hangup on making the decision to cut an employee is the emotional side of the decision. Even when I know that its the right choice, I talk myself in circles convincing myself I can help them, they can change, or that maybe I am overreacting and its my fault they are not succeeding. Here are some of my top situations and how I handled them…. and how I SHOULD have handled them.

The employee who makes too many mistakes:
This employee caught onto every task thrown at her and was a very productive at everything she did. However, she made a lot of small mistakes because she got too confident and was always rushing through tasks. The small mistakes started snowballing into big mistakes, which eventually cost us tens of thousands of dollars in fees, other employees wasted labor to fix mistakes, and lost long term clients. This employee was very dedicated to the company, she would always work extra, she cared for her co workers, she respected her bosses, which made the decision to let her go even harder.  She was written up, she was suspended, she received coaching and multiple PIPs, however things would only improve temporarily. This cycle went on for one year of her two years of employment with us before I finally had to let her go.  I waited well past time to let her go because of the emotional tie to her and because she truly was a loyal employee, the job just wasn’t the right fit. What I should have done was let her go after three issues that were worth documenting. By always letting her off the hook she felt she was invincible and never took the issues seriously enough to correct them.

The employee who isn’t reaching goals:
This employee was very smart and very thorough, however I run a production facility where we pride ourselves not only on quality but speed.  She would get behind every day, which lead to employees in other departments with nothing to do early in the day and slammed at the end. This lead to frustrated, stressed employees who I would end up paying overtime because this employee delayed their day.  I spoke to her four times about the issue of her being behind constantly, as well as other issues in attendance and attitude.  I offered re-training, coaching, tools, but she always said she was fine or had someone else to blame. I offered her other positions but she wanted to stay doing the job she had. I found myself taking things off her plate when the point of the position was for her to take things off mine.  What made the issue worse is that she was constantly stressed and very vocal about it.  Employees would ask her questions and she would sigh and make them feel that they were inconveniencing her. It got so bad that most of my employees were not comfortable asking her questions.  When I finally let her go she was very surprised and felt that I had not given her a final warning.  While I had talked to her numerous times about her attitude, her stress level, her productivity, and her constant tardiness, I had not documented any of the issues. I felt that our conversations were enough but in hind sight I should have documented every time I discussed a concern.

The employee(s) who breaks rules:
We have an employee handbook that clearly states all of our policies and rules. Many of my production employees like to push the limits or try to be sneaky about things such as our no cell phone policy.  We have turned a blind eye to numerous cell phone related issues when we are busy and can’t afford losing someone, but we have also fired people on the spot when we catch them on their phones. The issue is that this is not a consistent policy if it applies to one employee/situation and not all.  It makes employees think they can do what they want because they know they are needed. We need to have a firm hard policy for dealing with issues that applies to everyone, at all times of the year.

What I have learned from these issues is that a company must have a plan for employee discipline.  You need to write down the rules and the consequences for each. You need to have a policy of how many strikes an employee gets so you don’t waiver when the going gets tough or you get too emotional connected to your employees.  Most importantly you have to be on the same page as your co-managers so one of you doesn’t talk the other out of a firing when the rules have been broken.  HR is hard, we want to have a connection with our employees but we also have to have a strict policy for when your employees start dragging down your business.


A Failed Business Culture Starts at the Top

Recently I was at lunch with a colleague talking about business and our future career plans.  We were talking about the business she works for and how she is feeling burned out and considering switching jobs.  The company she works for has a lot of potential for growth but also a lot of staffing, process, and management issues.  She recently stepped down from her management role at the company as she felt that she was not cut for management.  After talking for a while longer I realized that the issue was not her lack of management skills and experience, it was an issue of the business culture failing due to poor management.  The lack of management who appreciate, nurture, and lead its employees was leading to burned out employees and wasted potential.

There are many traits of a poor manager but we are just going to focus on a few that I feel are the main reasons a company may experience a failing culture. Unfortunately some of these traits I have experienced first hand or have contributed to myself.

Managers or owners who;
– are threatened by their employees ideas – 
We have all worked for this person before; you have an idea on how a process can be improved or a new tool or idea to increase business. You pitch it to your manager and they immediately, without even considering it, poke holes in your idea, sometimes even laughing and putting you down.  What is even worse is when they do it in front of co workers.

– think they know everything – If you assume you know everything you will never learn more or grow.  I worked with a man who appeared to know everything there was to know about our industry.  Every time anyone tried to tell or show him something new he would say it doesn’t work. Then he would be proven wrong and all of a sudden change his answer. Not only do you block yourself from learning, you look like a fool to your employees.

– always say no – At a previous job I had a department lead who always said no. I would ask her if she could get something done, she would say I don’t think so or hum and hah with reasons why it wouldn’t work or she couldn’t.  Her negativity got to be an issue with other employees and upper management so in an effort to save her job I asked her to start saying “yes, and” or “yes, however” and then expressing her concern. Just switching her mindset from a negative to a positive not only helped her attitude but it made her more approachable to her employees and co workers.

– gets overly stressed and shuts down – I am guilty of this as well.  I will be overly caught up in something or just not in a social mood so I will be short with my employees. The issue is that employees wonder why you didn’t greet them this morning or why you had RBF all day.  As a boss you really don’t get time to yourself or get to be in a bad mood as your employees depend on you to be the strong one.  No one wants to be afraid of their boss, they want to feel appreciated everyday so you don’t get to take a day off to be grumpy, sorry.

As a manager or owner all eyes are on you at all times.  You don’t get to have a bad day, you don’t get to whine, you don’t get to be stressed and shut down. Why? Mostly because you have to set a good example but also because no one cares!  They know you make more money than they do so they feel that you should just suck it up and do your job, which is to manage and lead with a smile on your face. When you throw a temper tantrum or don’t feel like being social one day your employees feel it.  They wonder what they did wrong or if its common for you to be in a bad mood they will roll their eyes and mumble “here we go again”.  If you want to have a strong and positive culture at your company you have to always project that.  You have to listen to your employees and entertain their ideas.  Otherwise your good employees will be looking for jobs where they feel like they matter.

Time Theft: The Employee Issue You Don’t Know You Are Having

The concept of “time theft” was a new term to me just a year ago.  However, just because I didn’t know the term previously it doesn’t mean it wasn’t an issue at my company. Time theft is the snake in the grass in any business. So what is time theft?  According to Time Well Scheduled, “Time theft at work occurs when an employee accepts pay from their employer for work that they have not actually done, or for time they have not actually put into their work. Since the employee is not actually doing the necessary amount of work during their shift it is considered a theft of time from the company.”

Time theft comes in many forms and many employees don’t even realize what they are doing is wrong.
-Timecard time theft: When one employee clocks another one in for work when they are not present. This is the most serious type of time theft in my opinion because in reality it’s actually fraud. Plus it involved multiple employees versus just one.
-Early clock ins: This most common form of timecard theft is when employees clock in before they are ready to work.  This is the scenario we all see in our businesses; an employee arrives at work, they clock in, they go put their lunch in the fridge, they make a cup of coffee, they have a conversation with a co worker, they send a few texts, and go to the bathroom.  You have just paid an employee 10-20 minutes for them to do absolutely no work. We recently hung a sign above our time clock explaining this form of time theft and warning against it.  I am starting to wonder if the people it is directed to have even noticed it though…
-Paid break overages: Similar to early clock ins, paid break overages occur when an employee’s ten minute paid break extends to 15 or 20 minutes.  Often you will see this time theft combined with early clock ins as they get back in work mode post break. At my company we had such an issue with paid break overages as well as smokers poking their head outside for a quick three minute smoke break every hour that we now require employees to clock out for their paid breaks. Our clock system is set to have the first ten minutes as paid and once they go over that ten it starts docking their time.  It has helped immensely with paid break overages and keeping people honest.
-Internet and phone time theft: Do you have a cell phone policy at your facility? You should or your employees will undoubtably take full advantage of your flexibility by phone time theft. I recently read a study that said when you are distracted constantly at work you are 28% less productive.  Your phone chimes, you have a text, you pick up your phone, open it, read the text, think of a response, send the response, set down your phone, try to remember what you were doing, finally get back into the groove and “ding”, another text and you start the cycle over.  You have just wasted about five minutes per text.  So why are you paying your employees to have a social life at work?
-Unapproved Overtime: Unapproved overtime time theft occurs when employees stay late or start early without prior approval.  At my company our business fluctuates between decently busy and extremely busy seasons.  When we are in our busy seasons I don’t bother watching overtime as I assume that after working an extra one or two hours for multiple days in a row, my employees want to go home and are therefore not going to milk the overtime. However, when it’s slow and I am already wondering what they have been doing all day, I am on super heightened monitoring of overtime hours.  Another way employees can steal overtime is by clocking in from breaks early.  We require employees to take an unpaid, 30-minute lunch break, as defined in our state’s labor laws.  We recently had an issue where an employee would clock in 10-15 minutes early from lunch each day and 10-15 minutes early. By the end of the week she had over an hour of overtime that was unapproved and unwarranted.  We changed our clock system to not allow early clock ins.

Wouldn’t it be great if employees were all honest and fair?  Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to monitor breaks and overtime?  Unfortunately it’s just not this way these days, at least in the production industry. Time theft is an issue that most of us never even thought about even though it’s something going on right under our noses.

Do you have a clearly defined policy on time theft?



To Do or Not To Do Lists

I have a love-hate relationship with to do lists.  I love the idea, I love writing them, I love crossing things off of them…but I HATE that never seem to get the all the things done and they sit on my desk, taunting me.  My days are so insanely busy that I barely get to writing my to do lists let alone finish the tasks listed on them.  I also get in the habit of telling myself “I don’t need to waste time writing that down, I’ll remember”…guess what? I never remember!  My biggest issue is that I don’t take the time each day to write my to do list and I am not consistent about checking the lists that I do make.  They say it takes 21 days to make a habit and I think this is a pretty great habit to make in my quest for reducing my daily chaos.

A few months ago I heard this great minisode podcast from The Art of Charm (my favorite podcast series) on making more effective to do lists using “SMART goals”. The concept is from Charles Duhigg author of “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” and “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timeline. The concept takes your “stretch goal” and breaks it into smaller, more manageable actions.  Most stretch goals are large and can’t be done in a day, but they can be broken into smaller, actionable parts. When we have huge projects hanging over us we put them off because we never seem to have a large enough block of time to get the whole thing done. Maybe it’s just not realistic to get it all done in one swoop, maybe smaller, SMART goals are the way to get things done.
(For more info on SMART goals, check out Charles Duhigg’s website and a nice, easy to follow infographic)

Studies show that writing to do lists with more than a few items on them overwhelm us and cause us to shut down.  I know this is true for me.  I write multiple huge projects on each to do list and never even start, most of the time I don’t ever even check the list!  I wonder what would happen if I break each item into SMART goals?  Maybe I set a reminder for myself to check my list?  Maybe its stuck on my computer so I can’t avoid seeing the list all day?  Something to get myself in the habit of not just writing my to do list but checking it.

Why to do lists fail:
-They are too long so we get overwhelmed and do nothing on them.
-We don’t take the time to write things on our to do lists so we forget the tasks we need to remember.
-We forget to check our to do lists so tasks just sit on them and never get done.

How to make a better to do list:
-Start with one stretch goal that is broken into SMART goals. Work on these smaller parts of the stretch goal over a number of days instead of trying to carve out a huge block of time that we never have.
-Add smaller, obtainable goals for our day that only take 5-15 minutes each.
-Set a reminder or post the to do list where we will see it often.

I am a very visual person and like pretty things, even lists.  I have a few great to do list note pads that are enjoyable to look at. It may seem silly but using them makes me more motivated to not just look at my lists but also to write them. I also just bought a planner that has plenty of room under each day as well as a checklist area per week.

My goal for the next 21 days is to take five minutes per morning to write out my daily list, including the SMART goals for my weekly/monthly stretch goal.  Then I will either post it on my computer monitor or set myself a reminder each hour to check my list and try to check something off. Wish me luck, I am going to need it!

What are your tricks when you make to do lists? What works and what doesn’t work for you?

If you would like to check out the minisode from Art of the Charm that I mention in this blog, check it out here: