How do I document a performance improvement discussion?

When a manager documents a performance improvement discussion or a formal disciplinary transaction, what is it that the manager is actually documenting?

Too many managers think that what they are documenting is the existence of a problem. That's a mistake. You are not documenting the existence of a problem. You are documenting the discussion that you and the employee had about the problem.

The best way to document a performance discussion is to send the employee a memo summarizing your conversation and the employee's agreement to correct the problem as soon as you have completed the discussions.

Tell Me More

The following information should be in the memo about your performance discussion:

- The names of the supervisor, the employee, and any witnesses who were present.

- The date on which the discussion took place (and the location, if significant).

- The specific problem that caused the transaction to occur.

- A record of all previous conversations about the problem and the dates on which each of those conversations occurred. This record should include formal disciplinary conversations, coaching sessions, and casual conversations (even though no record of the conversation may have been made).

- A description of the continuing problems that have been experienced since the earlier conversations took place.

- A statement that the situation must be corrected (not "improved") and the specific change that must be made.

- A statement of the fact that failure to correct the problem may lead to more serious disciplinary action.

- A statement that in addition to solving the immediate problem, the organization expects the employee to maintain an acceptable level of performance in every area of his job.

- A record of the agreement made by the employee to correct the problem.

- A record of any action the employee agreed to take in order to bring about the correction.

- A closing statement that expresses the supervisor's belief that the problem will in fact be corrected and that the employee will perform properly in the future.

Hot Tip

After the supervisor has written the memo, the best way to handle the delivery to the employee is to actually sit down with the individual and review it with him. This confirms the importance that the supervisor places on correcting the problem and allows the supervisor to again gain the employee's agreement that the problem will in fact be solved.

The individual's quality and quantity of work are okay. It's his attitude that's the problem. How do I solve an attitude problem?

Ask any group of managers what the most common "people problem" they encounter is and they will uniformly answer, "Attitude problems."

One of the reasons that attitude problems seem so hard to resolve is that almost anything qualifies as an attitude problem. Is the employee a loner, unwilling to participate in team activities? He's got an attitude problem. Is she egotistical, grabbing all of the credit for others' work? She's got an attitude problem. Does he pick his nose and make rude noises? Ah, another attitude problem.

This step-by-step checklist will help you to confront and resolve attitude problems.

Checklist for Resolving Attitude Problems

- Narrow the issue to the specific problem or concern.

- Write down the specific verbal and physical behaviors and actions that concern you.

- Track the frequency.

- Identify the impact.

- Discuss the situation with the individual.

- Determine whether the individual has a logical reason for the behavior.

- Tell the individual to stop engaging in the problem behavior.

- Tell the individual what behavior is required: courteous, cooperative, and helpful.

Tell Me More

- Narrow the issue to the specific problem or concern. Begin by identifying the specific type of behavior that you are concerned with. Here is a list of various behaviors that could be labeled as attitude problems.

Identify the one that comes the closest to the actual behavior of the individual whose performance you're concerned with:

Annoying /offensive behavior

Careless/ frivolous

Complaining

Defensive

Disruptive

Egotistical /credit-grabbing

Explosive

Inattentive to work

Insensitive to others

Insubordinate

Lazy

Negative/cynical Pouting

Rude/surly /inconsiderate

Quarrelsome

Socializing

- Write down the specific verbal and physical behaviors and actions that concern you. The requirement that you write down the items that concern you will force you to focus on specifics. And don't forget to record the nonverbal behaviors (i.e., rolling of the eyes, clenching fists, staring off into space). Pretend you're a movie camera or a tape recorder actually recording exactly what it is that's unfolding in front of you.

- Track the frequency. Make a record of how often the various behaviors that concern you arise.

- Identify the impact. Make a list of the good business reasons that this behavior must stop.

- Discuss the situation with the individual. Explain that the behavior is causing a problem.

- Determine whether the individual has a logical reason for the behavior. It is possible that the person may be unaware of what he's doing or doesn't realize that it's distracting to others. It may also turn out that the "attitude problem" you've identified is a symptom of a more serious problem that needs a referral to the employee assistance program.

- Tell the individual to stop engaging in the problem behavior. Too often, supervisors fail to take this key step. You must directly tell the person to stop doing whatever it is that he is doing.

- Tell the individual what behavior is required: courteous, cooperative, and helpful. Unfortunately, many managers feel that they have to live with what the person is and thereby accept a lot of inappropriate behaviors. This is not true. Supervisors put up with way too much crap. Every organization has the right to demand that everyone who is on the payroll act in a courteous, cooperative, and helpful manner. If the employee says, "Well, that's not in my job description," grab his job description and write it in. If he says, "Well, that's just the way I am," tell him that he will need to find a job with another employer that is willing to accept him just the way he is, because you are not.

 
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