We want team members to be successful and should offer every opportunity for them to work effectively. Important deliverables or being understaffed are not good reasons to keep team members who are underperforming. We owe it to the team to maintain a high standard of performance amongst all team members. In addition, we also want our team members to be successful, and to recognize that they may be more successful at another company.
In all cases, we want a manager who asks the question "Is this the best person I could hire today?" to respond with a "Yes".
Managing and identifying underperformance can be one of the most difficult responsibilities of a manager, but its also one of the most important. As a people leader, you want to address underperformance in a timely and structured way to be fair and transparent with the team member. During a CEO Handbook Learning Session, GitLab CEO, Sid, and the Learning and Development team discuss what underperformance is, how managing it aligns to our values, the impact it can have on teams. You will also be introduced to the signs to look for to identify underperformance. We also cover tips team members and managers can implement along the way.
If someone is still not performing at an adequate level after going through the underperformance process, recognize that it's not only better for the company for the team member to move on, it's frequently also better for the team member. Making a decision to move the team member out of the role allows them to find a role where they can be successful, whether in or outside of GitLab. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to make a change. If it's not going to work out, take action as soon as possible. - GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij
GitLab strives to treat all team members with dignity and respect at all times. You can review GitLab's Team Member Relation Philosophy which outlines how we treat all team members and provides guidelines for how we address issues within GitLab. The kindest thing we can do for our team members is to address any issue early, and to provide a supportive environment where they can work on the issues and improve their performance.
Managing a team member who is underperforming is one of the more challenging aspects of the manager role. Though challenging it is expected that all leaders manage performance timely and provide team members with clear feedback and guidance. There are many reasons why a leader may not actively manage an underperforming team member. Below are a few reasons why managers sometimes avoid the difficult performance conversations:
For managers it is important that they address performance issues with team members early, failure to act early can greatly affect the performance of the team as a whole. Effective teams require cohesion, collaboration and actively engaging and performing team members to be successful in reaching their goals. Without this cohesiveness there is a risk to the overall team and GitLab's success.
GitLab will use the skill-based and will-based performance model to identify the root cause of the team members' underperformance and with that determine the suitable remediation plan. The remediation plan will differ based on the type of performance issue.
The skills-based and will-based model differs from our Talent Assessment model outlined in the handbook. In determining the root cause of an underperformance issue we will look to determine if the team member has the required skills needed to be successful in the role, or if the team member lacks the will (behavior) required to be successful. Though they are separate, managers should take into consideration skill- and will-based issues when performing a Talent Assessment for the team member.
The team member relations specialist is here to assist you in identifying the cause of the performance issue and can walk you through the performance management process that applies best to the situation. Below are definitions of skills-based and will-based concerns as well as the typical remediation plans. As with all situations, there may be unique circumstances which require unique remediation plans.
Team members may have the motivation to be successful but performance is impacted due to the following reasons:
Managers should review the skill-based performance issues and determine if the team member requires additional coaching, training, additional tools/resources, clearer instructions, guidance or assigning the team member a mentor or buddy.
Team members who have the skills necessary to succeed in their current role but they lack the will to perform. These may be impacted due to the following reasons:
How do you know if a team member isn't reaching their goals? Below are some common warning signs and patterns of underperformance as it relates to not meeting the expectations of the role.
These are all signs of a performance issue, however are these performance issues skill-based or will-based? Knowing the root cause of the performance issue enables the manager and team member to have open and transparent conversations to implement a plan to improve performance.
Managers should address performance concerns early and not wait until the performance problems have become unrecoverable. Feedback should be given early, it should be specific and it must be documented.
Tell your manager immediately if there are circumstances in your life that cause you to be less effective. It isn't required to give details if you prefer not to. Tell your manager when it started, to what extent it hinders your work, and what your forecast is for your circumstances to improve. When you delay this conversation until your manager identifies underperformance you've lost trust that would be helpful during this period.
Looping in the Team Member Relations Specialist early is essential. The TMR specialist can offer support, guidance, coaching, and partner with Legal to ensure compliance. Please be sure to align with your TMR specialist prior to delivering any formal action plan to team members. Formal action includes Written Performance Letter, Verbal Warning, Written Warning and a Performance Improvement Plan. Managers will partner with the team member relations group in the creation and delivery of any formal action.
Taking action sooner allows the action to be less severe and allows more time for coaching to have an effect. The important thing to remember as a manager is to immediately address signs of underperformance. Make sure to consider current personal circumstances, whether the team member has taken sufficient paid time off in the last 3 to 6 months, review previous performance feedback and any other indications of why there is underperformance or a team member is not meeting expectation for their role.
Underperformance should be addressed between the team member, the manager, and their manager. That is because the manager of the manager needs to see that underperformance is identified early and can help advising proportional actions to address it. Taking early action to address underperformance is an essential manager skill and one of the most important ways to improve results. Inform your manager immediately when you've identified possible underperformance. This is an excellent way to demonstrate initiative and rapidly improve your team. If your manager warns you about possible underperformance before you notify them, you have not practiced always tell us the bad news promptly. This diminishes the trust that is needed to resolve the situation. Managing underperformance is very important because it reinforces acceptable standards of performance. It is hard because frequently the underperformance is due to a mistake we made in hiring, onboarding, and/or coaching. It is also hard because it is a hard message to give and receive that someone's performance is not adequate.
We expect above 5% of our team members to experience explicit performance management on an annual basis, and we expect greater than 50% to be successful. We track this in meetings like the People Group Key Review and People Group Metrics to make sure we're managing performance consistently and fairly across all divisions, and in all circumstances. However, we don't enforce any hard thresholds.
This results in a lower rate of involuntary attrition than comparable companies, which range from 5 to 15% annually. We justify this based on the up-front effort we put into the hiring process. Divisions have various quantitative and qualitative processes for ensuring new hires can be successful at GitLab. This includes, but is not limited to:
Remediation options will vary based on if the team members underperformance is skill-based or will-based and local applicable law. However, as a best practice and to provide a consistent experience for all team members the following remediation process is recommended.
It is important to note that there is no requirement for these options to be considered or presented consecutively.
Important: As noted in the PIP section below, we only implement PIPs if we believe team members have the ability to be successful on the PIP. For team members who truly lack the skill for the role even after a period of coaching and support, we would not implement a PIP.
Coaching is the preferred option to deal with underperformance and is the first step in addressing performance issues.
Managers are expected to address performance concerns (skill-based or will-based) in a timely manner. Managers should address concerns verbally during one-on-one meetings or in impromptu private coaching sessions with their team member. These conversations must be documented by the manager and shared with the team member so that everyone has a record of the discussion and is in alignment on where improvements needs to be made and by when. Documentation should be brief (a few key bullet points or a paragraph), and should be sent via email to the team member within 24 hours of the verbal discussion.
Underperformance feedback should be the first item on your 1-1 agenda. If it is helpful, managers can use the Managing Underperformance Meeting Plan Tempate to facilitate the discussion with clear actionable steps on how to talk through feedback.
Helping GitLab team members understand clearly how their performance is below the standard expected quickly is very important to foster immediate improvement and continued success. It is also important to clarify when feedback given can provide helpful coaching vs. when to address a skill/will based performance issue. It is not always clear how serious the feedback being provided is and setting the context can be critical.
If there are extenuating circumstances, some leeway may be granted depending on the situation. This is an area where a People Business Partner or the Team Member Relations Specialist can provide a sounding board or a needed perspective.
When underperformance is detected, managers compensate by checking the team member's work more frequently. The company results should not be affected more than through under-hiring where the position was vacant and others would step in to compensate.
A Verbal Warning is used to bring attention to new or ongoing deficiencies in conduct and/or will-based performance issues. The intent is to define the seriousness of the situation to encourage immediate corrective action. Not all team members will receive a verbal warning; whether (and/or when) a team member receives a verbal warning may depend on local regulations. If you have any questions about whether you should complete a verbal warning, please reach out to the team member relations group..
The template for a Verbal Warning is found in the confidential PBP resources folder.
Verbal warnings should be communicated in 1:1 meetings, and subsequently confirmed by email with the manager emailing the team member with a recap of the discussion. The manager will then save the documentation to the team member's BambooHR profile, in the Action Notices folder. The verbal warning will remain in the BHR file for the requisite time, as required by applicable local law.
A Written Performance Letter is used to bring attention to performance issues or ongoing deficiencies previously addressed by your manager. Team members should already be aware of the performance issues due to ongoing coaching in your 1x1's with your manager and the follow up coaching emails. The Written Performance Letter will identify development areas/gaps, outline what success looks like and specific action/deliverables and due dates. The Written Performance Letter is not a formal Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) it is a documented coaching mechanism to help provide the team member with clear guidance to immediately improve performance.
The team member relations specialist will send the Written Performance Letter to the team member and manager to review and sign via Hellosign. Once signed the team member relations specialist will save the documentation to the team member's BambooHR profile, in the Action Notices folder. There may be times when a team member will not sign a written performance letter, that will be noted on the document and stored in BambooHR. The written performance letter will remain in the BHR file for the requisite time, as required by applicable local law.
The template for a Written Performance Letter is found in the confidential PBP resources folder.
A Written Warning is used to bring attention to new or ongoing deficiencies in conduct and/or will-based performance. The intent is to define the seriousness of the situation to encourage immediate corrective action. Not all team members will receive a written warning; whether (and/or when) a team member receives a written warning may depend on local regulations. Managers will work with the Team Member Relations Specialist to determine whether a written warning will be delivered to the team member.
The manager and team member relsations specialist will inform via a zoom meeting that the team member will be recieving a written warning. The team member relation specialist will then send the Written Warning Letter via hellosign to the team member to review and sign. Once signed the team member relations specialist will save the documentation to the team member's BambooHR profile, in the Action Notices folder. There may be times when a team member will not sign a written warning, that will be noted on the document and stored in BambooHR. The written warning will remain in the BHR file for the requisite time, as required by applicable local law.
Many companies use a PIP for most involuntary offboarding, as documented support for releasing a team member. At GitLab we think that giving someone a plan while you intend to let them go is a bad experience for the team member, their manager, and the rest of the team.
A PIP at GitLab is not used to "check the box;" a PIP is a genuine last chance to resolve underperformance. You should only offer a PIP if you are confident that the team member can successfully complete it. The team member should also be committed to successfully completing the PIP and maintaining the level of performance arrived at through the PIP. A PIP will not be successful unless both the team member and the manager believes the team member can succeed.
For team members who truly lack the skill for the role or for those team members who lack the will to be successful a PIP should not be offered. PIPs as mentioned above are for team members who with additional guidance, coaching, resources or tools have the ability to improve and sustain long term performance.
As part of the PIP the manager will work with the team member to define SMART goals. SMART goals allow both the manager and team member to define requirements, track progress, and improve communication of expectations for success during the PIP period.
SMART is an acronym that can be used in creating the PIP requirements. Clear and reachable goals should meet the following criteria:
Sample SMART Goals:
Bad SMART Goal: "Improve overall qualified sales lead".
Good SMART Goal: "In May, June and July, Jane Doe must have an increase of 20% in overall qualified sales leads entered into Salesforce.com"
Bad SMART Goal: "Increase Fix defects"
Good SMART Goal: "Fix at least 8 defects. Must be fixed with code changes, not closing as "Won't Fix, "Not Reproducible". All defects must be dev completed/merged by end of business Monday, Jan. 1st, 2018".
Our values should be top of mind in administering a PIP.
It is important to remember that the root cause of issues can be a variety of things, PIPs are not intended to be a negative document. They are an opportunity for the manager and the team member to work together to get the team member back on track. We have an example of this to share here, it is anonymized in line with keeping job feedback private as per the General Guidelines;
GitLab team member:
"Although nobody wants to be put on a PIP, for me it ended up ultimately being a positive experience. My initial introduction to the plan was a shock and a serious blow to my self confidence, but the process was presented in a fair and open way with clearly defined steps and goals,. The document presented an attitude of wanting to help me improve and thrive, not a pretext to send me out the door. This helped me shape my attitude going through the process. As it turns out I had several blind spots in my communication and time management skills that needed to be remedied, and over the course of the PIP with weekly updates with my manager and some personal efforts in activity logging I was able to improve in both of these areas".
"For me as a manager, I want to be honest and open with people. I never feel good about telling people they are not meeting the standard. At the same time I really want people to improve. With the PIP we were able to clearly talk about the work that needed to be done to, make them improve and get them where we needed them to be. In this case, the underperformance was not a lack of skills. We merely needed to redirect their focus".
The intention of a PIP is to support the team member in any way required to make their time at GitLab a positive experience but also to make clear that immediate and sustained improvement is required. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has a helpful guide to review when you this step is needed to push past the current performance issues.
A performance improvement plan includes the following:
The PIP process is between a manager and their direct report. Information shared in a PIP should be kept confidential by both participants. If underperformance becomes a reason for offboarding, the individual should not be taken by surprise, but others at the company might be.
When in the process of underperformance remediation, such as when a written warning, PEP or PIP is active, you are generally not eligible for transfer to other roles within GitLab. If the underperformance is exclusively a result of a skills mismatch (not of lack of motivation, commitment, delivery etc. or misalignment to our values) other roles within GitLab may be considered, however, a determination regarding your eligibility is at the discretion of your manager and People Business Partner.
When the underperformance is resolved and you want to transfer to another role, please review the Internal Application Process for transfer. Please note that an internal reference will be conducted before the transfer is final, with this the documented underperformance may be discussed.
Managers need to be aware and take into consideration both skill-based and will-based performance issues when they are particpating in the Talent Assessment Performance/Potential Matrix process as listed in the handbook. It is critical that a manager take in these performance issues when evaluating a team member. If a team member is technically performing in their role but there are will-based performance issues that is impacting their ability or the teams ability to succeed these need to be taken into consideration.
This should be discussed with a Team Member Relations Specialist before any action is taken in order to ensure it is done in compliance with local laws and regulation. As soon as you know you'll have to let someone go, do it immediately. The team member is entitled to know where they stand. Delaying it for days or weeks causes problems with confidentiality (finding out that they will be let go), causation (attributing it to another reason), and escalation (the working relationship is probably going downhill).
There may be times when a team member is placed on paid or unpaid leave during an investigation. This action is taken to protect the team member and GitLab during the investigative process. During this time, all access to GitLab's data and systems will be suspended. The purpose of suspending accounts is to minimize risk to GitLab team members, systems, and reputation.
The investigation is considered high priority to minimize the amount of time the team member is on leave. Our goal is to complete the investigation in no more than 5 business days. The team member must remain available during this time for further questions or other matters related to the investigation. The leave is meant to enable GitLab to conduct a thorough and speedy investigation and does not in itself carry any implication of prejudgement, nor does it constitute any form of disciplinary action. The leave will only remain in place as long as necessary and can be lifted at any time.
Regardless of level in the organization, the expectation is that all team members are provided with both coaching and feedback prior to a decision to exit the team member. Feedback is critical to development at GitLab at all levels and should be done in real time as much as possible.
However, for VP and higher roles we are unlikely to offer a formal performance remediation plan or place a VP on a formal PIP. If after documented coaching and feedback sessions the performance has not improved GitLab would move to a separation with the team member.
We do this because the impact of their continued underperformance is greater on the rest of the organization.