Positive Performance Management directive – FAQs about Performance Improvement Plans (PIP)

Management of all employees must be directed towards the positive performance management principles in section 25A of the Public Service Act 2008 (the PS Act). Timely, open, regular and constructive communication is the mutual responsibility of managers and employees, who should work together to improve work performance outcomes.

Directive 15/20 Positive performance management provides a positive framework for all public service employees and managers for effective management of work performance. It is designed to support managers in taking early and appropriate action when instances of poor work performance occur whilst maintaining an effective and positive ongoing working relationship between the manager and the employee.

The directive further expands on the principles set out in section 26 of the PS Act by outlining that managers and employees have a responsibility to work together to achieve better outcomes and improve performance and that this should be done is a way that is mutually respectful, supportive and takes into account the individual circumstances of each employee. Section 186C of the PS Act provides that a chief executive must not take disciplinary action against an employee for a matter relating to the employee’s performance until the chief executive has complied with the directive about positive performance management.

1. What is covered in the directive?

The directive provides a framework for managers to support and manage the work performance of their employees from their commencement in a team through to circumstances where improvement may be required. The directive:

  1. outlines the principles of positive performance management in section 25A of the PS Act
  2. details the processes for managing employee work performance, including during induction and probation
  3. describes the use of performance and development agreements
  4. details the process of managing unacceptable work performance in a supportive way.

2. How can I make sure my employee knows what is expected of them?

Key stages in managing employee work performance include induction, probation, performance and development agreements (PDA) with open and regular communication about the PDA and, where applicable, managing unacceptable work performance by way of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

Induction

Setting an employee up for success in their employment journey begins from their commencement in a role by providing a comprehensive induction. A good induction process should occur before or soon after the employee begins.

An effective induction process must be designed to provide employees with:

  1. a knowledge and understanding of the work performance and personal conduct principles in section 26 of the PS Act
  2. an awareness of the agency’s work performance expectations for their role
  3. an understanding of how the agency will apply the positive performance management principles
  4. an understanding that a performance and development agreement may be used to assess work performance during the probationary period (where applicable).

Where the chief executive considers it appropriate in the circumstances, an induction may also be provided to employees returning to the workplace following leave or other absence of 12 months or more, and to employees who have been promoted, or have moved to positions with differing or enhanced responsibilities.

Probation

Where an employee is subject to a probationary period under section 126 of the PS Act, during the probation process, the chief executive must ensure the employee receives:

  1. a clear statement of the work performance expectations for the probationary period
  2. prompt and appropriate feedback on work performance, including recognition of acceptable and exceptional work performance, and feedback on areas of work performance that need improvement
  3. a structured review where unacceptable work performance issues persist that may result in termination of employment prior to the end of the probationary period if the issues are not resolved
  4. a structured review before the end of the probationary period to:
    1. confirm the appointment, or
    2. extend the probationary period for a further period, or
    3. terminate the employment.

Performance and development agreements

Ongoing support and development should be provided to employees through the use of performance and development agreements, with regular reviews that promote constructive communication, reflecting the positive performance management principles, to assist the employee to meet and exceed work performance expectations.

Managers need to provide regular and meaningful feedback on an employee’s work performance, including recognising performance that meets and exceeds expectations, as is appropriate in the circumstances.

Download the performance and development agreement template. (DOCX, 127 KB)

3. What should I do if I notice instances where an employee’s work performance is below expectations?

A manager should hold an initial conversation with the employee to explore the circumstances and seek to understand what’s happening. Minor or isolated incidents are generally more effectively managed through a collaborative approach where supportive improvement strategies are implemented.

4. Should I wait until a performance and development meeting to raise concerns about an employee’s work performance?

No. Managers are required to take steps to proactively manage circumstances of poor work performance. Early and effective feedback is the best tool a manager has for assisting an employee to self-correct and take steps to improve. Feedback should be provided as close as possible to when the poor work performance arises and should be structured around identifying the issues, putting in place strategies to improve and ongoing monitoring.

What if an employee’s personal circumstances are impacting on their work performance?

Managers should work with employees to understand whether any personal circumstances are impacting on their work performance. In circumstances where an employee discloses factors that may be affecting them (for example domestic violence or family caring responsibilities), managers should engage with the employee to put in place supports or adjustments to the workplace to assist them achieving the required standards. In conjunction with the employee, managers should then monitor the effectiveness of these supports against the required standards of work performance.

What if an employee’s work performance is being impacted by a medical condition – is an independent medical examination needed?

Where an employee’s work performance is impacted by a medical condition, the manager should consider the available medical information and provide reasonable adjustments as required to support the employee. If reasonable adjustments do not assist in achieving the required standards, an agency may consider seeking further medical information about the employee’s capacity to undertake their role. Consideration can be given to obtaining this information from the employee’s treating medical practitioner (with consent), and/or through issuing a direction for an independent medical examination (IME) under the relevant sections of the PS Act and the related IME directive.

What is the difference between a performance and development agreement and a performance improvement plan (PIP)?

Performance and development agreement

A performance and development agreement enables managers to support the work performance of an employee and their team. This document is initially used to establish and clarify work performance expectations for an employee and is then used to regularly review and provide feedback on the employee’s progress against these. It is a collaborative tool that managers can use to discuss future development and career goals with their employee and develop plans to support progression towards these.

Performance and development agreements should be put in place for all employees upon commencement; monitored and reviewed at least yearly, and used as a basis for feedback to an employee on their progress against expectations on a regular basis. Download the performance and development agreement template.

Performance improvement plan (PIP)

A PIP is a process that can be utilised where regular communication, early discussions and support interventions have not assisted an employee to self-correct and achieve the required standard of work performance. It is a formal plan that provides specific strategies in a defined timeframe to achieve a level of improvement necessary for an employee to consistently perform at the expected standards required in their role. It provides measurable goals and outcomes and tailored support mechanisms to support the desired standards being achieved by the employee, and sets out the consequences that may occur for the employee if these are not achieved.    

5. When should a PIP be considered?

The PIP checklist (PDF, 7.24 MB) |   (DOCX, 121 KB) has been developed to assist managers determine whether a PIP is an appropriate step to take.

6. Can an employee appeal a decision to implement a PIP?

Yes. If an employee believes that a PIP process does not comply with the directive relating to performance management, they may appeal under section 194(1)(a) of the PS Act. This provision outlines that an employee may lodge an appeal against a decision to take or not take action under a directive. In practical terms, this means an employee may lodge an appeal if they believe that the agency has failed to comply with the requirements of the directive prior to implementing a PIP.

The PIP checklist (PDF, 7.24 MB) |   (DOCX, 121 KB) will assist agencies in ensuring decision making around PIP implementation meets the requirements of the directive.

7. What must be included in a PIP?

There are a number of things that must be included in a PIP. The agreement must document the gaps between actual and expected performance. It must further outline what the employee is expected to achieve with clear and measurable outcomes, what support and strategies will be put in place to assist and how frequently review meetings will be held to measure progress against the outcomes. It must also include how additional feedback will be provided, how long the PIP will be in place and the potential consequences for the employee should the required standards not be met. The PIP template (PDF, 3.47 MB) |   (DOCX, 53 KB) has been designed with examples to guide agencies across all of the mandatory inclusions of the PIP.

8. How long should the PIP go for?

The duration of a PIP is generally 12 weeks however can be for a longer or shorter period, depending on the circumstances and the nature of what the employee is expected to achieve. For example, if an employee achieves and sustains what is required of them in a shorter period than 12 weeks, a manager may choose to conclude the PIP earlier than its original timeframe. If an employee requires formal training that extends beyond a 12 week timeframe, it may be appropriate to consider a longer PIP to cover the timeframe of the training.

9. What happens during a PIP?

Employees are required to actively participate in processes put in place to support improved work performance. During the PIP timeframe, managers and employees must meet regularly (usually weekly or fortnightly) to review the employee’s progress against the requirements of the PIP. Managers must consider each requirement of the review period and provide feedback to the employee on whether they have met or not met each requirement. This feedback should be specific with examples and evidence provided against each requirement, and the employee given the opportunity to comment. In circumstances where the employee has not met what has been required, managers should consider the reasons for this and whether any additional supports or training could be put in place to assist the employee in achieving what is required. The review meeting and its outcomes must be documented and a copy provided to the employee.

10. Can the duration of a PIP be extended?

Yes, it may be reasonable to extend the initial duration of a PIP where the employee has met some of the required standards or has demonstrated good progression towards these and it is anticipated they will be achieved within a short period or with additional supports. Extension of a PIP may also be considered when there has been significant absence during the initial PIP period (for example, due to illness).

Any extension to the duration of a PIP must be for a reasonable period and the reasons should be clearly communicated to the employee prior to the cessation of their initial PIP period. What is a reasonable period of extension to the duration of a PIP will depend on the circumstances of each matter.

11. What happens following the end of the PIP?

At the end of the PIP, an employee should be able to demonstrate that they have been able to achieve and maintain the required standard of work performance. In this circumstance, the employee should be advised of the successful completion of the PIP and that the expected standards will be monitored through performance development processes.

If an employee has not been able to achieve and maintain the required standards, agency delegates should give consideration to whether extending the PIP for a further period will achieve the required outcomes or whether it would be more appropriate to consider if there are grounds for discipline under section 187 of the Act and the directive relating to discipline.

12. Can I progress directly to discipline?

In some circumstances it may be appropriate to commence a disciplinary process without first undertaking a PIP in cases where issues of unacceptable conduct or performance are identified. These may include serious conduct matters including bullying or sexual harassment. However, note that section 186C of the PS Act provides that a chief executive must not take disciplinary action against an employee for a matter relating to the employee’s performance until the chief executive has complied with the directive about positive performance management.

It may also be appropriate to consider a discipline process in circumstances where previous PIP processes have occurred and the employee has not maintained or achieved the required standards of conduct or performance.

13. Where can I go for more information?

Contact your agency human resource team.