Often times, smaller sized companies do not have a human resources manager. They tend to have an office manager, admin assistant, AP/AR associate, or the owner, who switches hats every few minutes from their main function to receptionist, switchboard operator, procurement clerk, barista, in-house Instacart associate, and ad hoc HR.

When it comes to the HR function, generally the extent is administrative, processing employment and benefit forms, timekeeping and payroll. However important employment forms and paying people are (actually they can't be overstated), equally important are the consultative, managerial and organizational development functions of human resources that are usually missing in this scenario. In fact, there is often confusion regarding employment best practices if you haven't devoted your career to learning what they are and practicing them.

Hence, this question that came to my inbox.

Can performance improvement plans also be used for employees who are doing a great job or are they just for struggling employees?

I would not use the term "improvement plan" for a performer who is meeting expectations. Employees are aware that anyone needing improvement is not meeting expectations and this type of plan is viewed as punitive. Companies use an improvement plan as a last effort - typically after a significant amount of one-on-one coaching has not been effective, to get an employee to be productive, and or comply with policy or procedures. Generally, a timeline is established in the plan that if improvement goals are not met within an established period of time (30, 60, 90 days) disciplinary action, up to and including separation from employment may occur.

However, an employee development plan can be crafted to get a reliable performer to the next level or step in the company. It's good practice to identify promising internal talent and get them on a path for growth within the organization. An employee development plan is an excellent tool to provide a formal framework to attain that.

In 20 years of human resources, I have worked with managers to draft many improvement and development plans. Employees are never excited to receive an improvement plan but almost always excited that they have been recognized as star performers whom the company wants to invest in to further their career.

If you own or manage a small company and recognize the importance of constructive ways to improve employee performance and retention, I hope this has been insightful. And if you are open minded and willing to do the work, connect with me to talk about why your company struggles to keep people, why they leave you (because it is you they are ditching), and how I can help you turn the ship around.


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