Tips for setting up a performance improvement plan
Performance 5 minute read

Tips for setting up a performance improvement plan

Andra Mircioiu | July 9, 2020

The employee performance improvement plan is an official document outlining how employees can improve their job performance and avoid disciplinary action. It’s important for HR and management to know how to create performance plans to support struggling employees.

A performance improvement plan (PIP), sometimes called an employee performance plan, is often described as the last step before termination. However, as work advice columnist Alison Green writes, a PIP is best described as “a last-ditch attempt to see if the employee can improve to the level needed to remain in the job.” 

You’ll find a lot of misconceptions and negativity surrounding employee performance improvement plans, namely that an employee who is put on one is just a few weeks away from termination. This is one misconception that you’ll have to address if you have an employee struggling in their role and you’re considering putting them on a PIP. 

A performance improvement plan is also a safeguard against the risk of litigation, as it documents work performance issues and the lack of improvement that results in an employee’s termination. 

Read on to learn more about performance improvement plans, including what to do before you introduce a PIP, who should write the PIP and a template to help you craft your own performance improvement plan. 

A performance improvement plan is meant to help struggling employees who are falling behind on deadlines or attendance or any other number of performance issues.

A PIP outlines what an employee needs to do within a specific timeframe to continue their employment at your organization. 

A well-written PIP can guide the employee back to optimum productivity and show them you support them and want them to succeed at your organization. Since PIPs are generally seen as a precursor to a firing, you (or the employee’s manager) should make it clear that you see the PIP as an opportunity for improvement. By framing a PIP this way, you bolster the employee’s morale and set them up for success—in other words, you clarify that a performance improvement plan is just that: A plan to help the employee improve their performance. 

If you’ve noticed a decline in an employee’s performance over a period of several weeks, it’s crucial to have a conversation with them before you consider putting them on a PIP. 

Your employee could be struggling with personal issues that are negatively affecting their productivity at work. Or it could be that your employee doesn’t find the work to be challenging enough or they might have problems accessing the resources needed to complete their tasks. 

Once you’ve established the root cause for your employee’s poor performance, outline the actions and improvements you’d like to see from them. Give them a reasonable timeline and set up check-in meetings to gauge how things are going. 

If you’re nearing the end of the timeline and you’ve seen little to no improvement, you can consider placing the employee on a PIP or proceeding with either termination, demotion or transfer. 

A PIP should be written by the employee’s manager and HR, because it is a formal document. 

Writing a performance improvement plan is an art form. For one, the PIP must be realistic and fair. It must have clear, precise and measurable goals that are easy to understand. It also needs to detail the employee’s shortcomings, your expectations for improvement and include a timeline. PIPs typically last 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on the length and breadth of the improvements the employee needs to make, and it’s rare to allow an extension. 

Because it’s a formal document, a PIP is best written as a collaboration between the employee’s manager and someone on your HR team—or at the very least, reviewed by HR before it’s shared with the employee. Senior management on the employee’s team should also be looped into the conversation and given the opportunity to vet the PIP. 

Structure is the watchword when it comes to a PIP. That said, all PIPs are relatively similar in structure.

Here’s what should be included in an employee performance plan. 

  • Information about the employee: name, role and department, and their manager’s name. 
  • Next, include the reason for the PIP. Be as detailed as possible and include recent examples of when the employee failed to meet standards. 
  • Then add a section for improvement, meaning the actions your employee needs to take to meet the requirements of the PIP (i.e. be at work on time, deliver projects before deadline). 
  • Add a check-in section where you can detail when and how often the employee’s manager and the employee will touch base on progress. Ideally, check-in meetings should be weekly if the PIP is set for 30 days and every two weeks if you choose a 60-day or a 90-day PIP. 
  • Be sure to include a section detailing the support your employee will receive. This could include mentoring sessions, additional training or workshops. 
  • Confirm a date and time for a final review to discuss the employee’s performance and the result of the performance improvement plan. 
  • Lastly, include an acknowledgement section to be signed and dated by the employee and the employee’s manager. 

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