At GitLab, we strive to hire smart people who can get things done. Though the bar for getting hired is high, our interview process is imperfect and later on we may find that someone is underperforming. We want people to be successful and should give every opportunity for individuals to work effectively but at the same time, we need to balance the company’s needs and move quickly to manage areas of underperformance. In addition, we also want our teammates to be successful, and recognize that they may be more successful at another company.
The important thing to remember is to always address any early signs of underperformance immediately. Managers should follow these guidelines when underperformance is recognized. Please reach out to People Operations with any concerns related to underperformance to protect the organization and equally consider the individual(s) involved. Remember that having important deliverables is not an excuse to keep a team member who is underperforming. We owe it to all of those on the team to maintain a high standard of performance amongst all teammates. If a manager thinks that someone on their team is underperforming, they should speak with their own manager about it as quickly as possible.
We recorded a training on this subject here:
Managers are expected to address performance concerns (poor results and/or behavior issues) 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 should 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 shared with the team member within 24 hours of the verbal discussion.
Helping GitLab team-members understand clearly how their performance is not meeting standards quickly is very important to foster immediate improvement and continued success. It is also important to clarify when feedback given is helpful coaching vs. a serious 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 People Operations can provide a sounding board or voice of reason.
When underperformance is detected, managers compensate by checking their report'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.
When coaching is not enough there are two options:
Many companies use a PIP for all firings to have a legal trail for the reason behind letting someone go. 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 the team member and the manager believes they can succeed. For director and higher functions we are unlikely to offer a PIP and more likely to let someone go immediately since the impact of their underperformed is greater on the rest of the organization.
As part of the PIP the manager will work with the employee to define SMART goals. SMART goals allow both the manager and employee 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. To make sure goals are clear and reachable, each one should be:
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".
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 their team member to work together to get the individual 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;
"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 individual 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:
This basic PIP template will provide a good start to creating the document. The template should be customized to fit the particular situation. All PIPs should be forwarded to the People Ops Generalist or Director for final review and approval before delivery. This step will help ensure consistency in the PIP process for any affected team member and to protect GitLab should legal claims arise as a result of termination.
3) Team member gets time (2-4 weeks depending on the role and circumstances) to demonstrate improvement and meet specific goals outlined in the PIP. If sufficient improvement is not made but progress is headed in the right direction, a plan period may be extended at the discretion of the manager. By design, a PIP is expected to support a successful and sustained improvement in performance.
4) Otherwise, the team member is let go or his/her contract is cancelled. It is not necessary to create a second PIP for the same performance issues within a reasonable period of time and after informing the team member that the unacceptable performance has resurfaced in writing (an email is fine). To begin the termination process, the manager should forward a recommendation for termination to their Executive team member and People Operations including the history of the PIP and the recurring performance issues. If a person does need to be let go, work with People Operations to follow the process for involuntary termination and the offboarding steps.
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 termination, the individual should not be taken by surprise but the rest of the company should be.