We want people to be successful and should give every opportunity for individuals to work effectively. Important deliverables or being understaffed is not a good reason 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. In addition, we also want our teammates to be successful, and recognize that they may be more successful at another company.
In all cases, we want a manager who asks themselves the question "Is this the best person I could hire today?" to respond with a "yes".
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 to get through this period.
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, on boarding, and/or coaching. It is also hard because it is a hard message to give and receive that someone's performance is not adequate.
It is important to note that there is no requirement for these options to be considered or presented consecutively.
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 (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.
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 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 a People Business Partner 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.
A Written Warning is used to bring attention to new or ongoing deficiencies in conduct and/or performance. The intent is to define the seriousness of the situation to encourage immediate corrective action.
Here is a Sample Formal Written Warning you can use a template.
When coaching a team member is not yielding the performance results desired the manager can move to a Performance Enablement Plan (PEP), as an alternative, before moving to a PIP. The PEP process helps managers and team members identify areas for improvement, set goals, and measure progress. However, unlike a PIP, an unsuccessful PEP does not result in offboarding but may lead to a PIP. In some instances after a PEP if a manager believes that a PIP would be unsuccessful then a discussion around the team members continued employment with GitLab will occur. A PEP is usually set for a short period of time, normally 1 month. During this time the manager and team member will work together in building the plan and the monitoring progress. A PEP Template is provided for your reference. To use, notify the People Business Partner (PBP) of your intention to deliver a PEP in advance, then simply make a copy and share with the team member. Please note the Performance Enablement Plan is not a career development tool. This is to be used to address performance issues and start the process for corrective action. Managers are highly recommended that they utilize the PEP before moving to a formal PIP. Once a PEP is delivered, the PBP will upload it to the document section in BambooHR and change the employment status to PEP for the duration of the PEP.
You may reference this template as a guideline for Communication to Team Member After Successful PIP/PEP Completion, and this template for Successful PEP/PEP Template for Managers.
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 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 after coaching hasn’t helped. We do this because the impact of their continued underperformance is greater on the rest of the organization and it takes more time to assess an improvement in performance at this level.
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;
"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 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.) other roles within GitLab may be considered, however this 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.
This should be discussed with a People Business Partner 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).