It can be said that your team is “only as good as your weakest link,” but when that person is an employee it can be even more essential that they work to their potential – the business relies on everyone providing their best work. There’s not always a clear-cut reason why an employee is underperforming – it could be that there is a deeply personal issue going on at home or they have simply started to slack off on the day-to-day tasks for no reason at all.

A performance improvement plan, also known as a PIP, is designed with these employees in mind – it provides a range of guidelines for employers to implement to help get that employee back on track. Sometimes, a performance improvement plan is all that is needed to offer a sense of direction to an employee, but it also helps businesses realize that perhaps the employee is no longer suitable for the company.

Why Create a Performance Improvement Plan?

Creating a performance improvement plan is beneficial for all involved. Perhaps the employee is not reaching the full potential because they didn’t receive the proper training, or the job role changed along the way and the employee didn’t change along with it – these are just some of the reasons why a performance improvement plan helps an employee and the rest of the team.

It’s never easy to approach an employee about a diminished work performance so the improvement plan opens up the dialogue between all involved and allows the employee an opportunity to get the job done right. Whatever the cause of the employee’s poor performance, using the PIP process to create a performance action plan is crucial to improve the underperforming employee’s performance in a specific timeline.

What are some questions you should ask when creating a performance improvement plan?

  1. What are specific areas where an employee lacks the necessary skills or motivation?
  2. What separates this employee from a top performer?
  3. Are they a good fit in this role? Is there a better fit for the staff member somewhere else?
  4. What additional training can you offer?
  5. How do you quantify objectives the employee should meet?
  6. How can you use your HR consultant to develop the most effective performance improvement plan?

Steps to Create a Performance Improvement Plan

There are various steps involved with creating a performance improvement plan – having one in place also gives the employee a chance to be engaged with the process before further disciplinary action is determined. Here are the essential steps that should be included with every performance improvement plan:

  • Define what the performance issues are – This first step needs to be dedicated to what the main issues are with the employee. It’s very important to be as specific and objective as possible in order to illustrate where the concerns are – examples and facts will keep the lines of communication open and help the employee identify where the underperformance is taking place. Clear expectations are the key! If the employee has a pattern of behavioral issues or failing to meet a designated expectation, these situations need to be documented in the performance improvement plan.
  • Create a plan of action – After detailing where the employee is underperforming, it is important to provide them a performance action plan. Creating a list of measurable goals or expectations will help the employee identify areas of improvement and give management a way in which to gage that improvement. Just as the performance issues are written clearly and in detail, the action plan – as well as what skills or modifications are expected from the employee — must also be established as soon as possible.
  • Establish the timeframe – Depending on the performance issues in question, various timeframes will be required to accommodate the employee and improvements. If new skills or training is needed, provide an adequate amount of time, the probationary period – usually 60 to 90 days – to meet the objectives set out in the action plan. Additionally, provide detailed information about how the company will assist the employee in meeting the goals set out in the performance improvement plan. Be sure to include the disciplinary actions that will take place if the objectives are not met – if termination is a consideration, it must be expressly written in the plan. There must be clear consequences in a reasonable timeframe with specific goals to help the employee understand what precisely needs to be accomplished.
  • Review the plan – Before going over the improvement plan with the employee, it should be reviewed by a professional in Human Resources. A review of the plan provides two things – that it is objectively written and goals are attainable within the timeline set forth. Remember: this is a formal document with performance expectations identifying performance deficiencies. The underperforming employee needs to understand the severity of this corrective action that could lead to the start of a termination process.

Once the performance improvement plan is written up and reviewed, a meeting with the employee is required. During the meeting, a supervisor must go over the different steps as detailed in the plan and ensure the employee clearly understands the components of it, as well as the potential consequences. It’s vital to provide detailed explanations of this corrective action plan and for all parties to be honest about the root causes of poor performance.

Milestones should be established during the performance plan so that the employee and supervisor can follow-up on progress weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly to discuss how the employee is meeting objective goals or skills. The meeting will provide the specific details about the employee’s work and setup a formal agreement with regular check-ins to improve an employee to good performance.

The results of a performance improvement plan will often vary depending on the employee and whether they can meet expectations, but provides a good basis for observing the improvements – or lack thereof —  for those who are struggling on the job.

Creating Success with a Performance Improvement Plan

While employees might view the performance improvement plan as something disheartening or dreadful, it’s not designed to be used in a manner that creates such emotions with an employee. In fact, a performance improvement plan — or a PIP – is a tool created by Human Resources to get an employee focused and back performing at optimal levels.

At first, many performance improvement plans were handed out to underperforming employees as a way to hopefully get them to quit of their own accord, but today, performance plans are used in a much more beneficial manner. Just the term itself, performance improvement, should mean something! While not every company is going to handle a PIP in this manner, the general consensus between businesses is that it’s better to tackle the problem early on rather than deal with larger issues in the future.

There are varieties of reasons why the employee has started underperforming or engaging in a range of bad habits and the performance improvement plan is designed to open those lines of communication up and help steer the employee back on course.

What Should Be in a Performance Improvement Plan?

A performance improvement plan should contain the following sections:

  • Evidence of decreased performance or poor work patterns written in a clear, concise language
  • Detailed objectives and measurable goals or skills that should be met by the employee
  • Milestones in which to complete the required goals and objectives

When done properly, a performance improvement plan is actually a helpful tool for everyone involved! It allows you, as the manager, a way to understand how or why the employee is not meeting the desired potential – you might learn that the employee does not have the proper training necessary to complete the job or they aren’t feeling challenged enough on a day-to-day basis. It’s also important to note that a performance improvement plan should not be used as a final notice or last resort – in fact, it should not come as a surprise to the employee when you call them into the meeting to discuss the decline in performance. It can also result in the employee seeking help from team members, an effective way to improve team dynamics. In order to create success in any business environment, the lines of communication should be open so that everyone knows what’s expected of them at all times.

Empower Employees to Improve

Once you create the improvement plan and discuss job performance with the employee, it’s up to him or her to take it from there – meeting objectives, reaching out to a manager for discussion or simply reaching milestones in a satisfactory manner are necessary. As a manager, there is only so much you can do for your employee before they need to decide for themselves whether they want to put the effort in or not. The employee has to want an open dialogue to help accomplish the time-sensitive goals in the employee performance improvement plan.

So how do you create success with a performance improvement plan? Focus less on the parameters of the plan and more on the work environment as a whole. Once the employee has been alerted to areas of improvement, creating a successful environment and team is a key way to boost productivity of all employees.

  • Goals need to be clear – As a manager, it’s important to alert an employee with a PIP – as well as the rest of the team – what the goals are for the business. Having a clear direction and purpose is imperative for helping the team work as a collective unit. Be clear with performance goals and the specific timeline they should be achieved in.
  • Open communication is crucial – The most effective work environment is one that allows thoughts and solutions to be expressed freely. Opening up the communication between managers and employees makes the environment more engaging and welcoming – especially when an employee is navigating around goals and milestones listed within the performance improvement plan. As a manager, be open to opinions and discussions with employees – you’ll learn things about them that will help you be more effective and place them where it’s more beneficial to the business.
  • Don’t be defensive – When you ask employees what they want most out of their job, it’s usually one thing – to feel like they matter to the group. Even for those on an improvement plan, reinforcing what they do right for the team is a more effective tactic for helping them remain motivated and responsive to the critiques within the plan. This is a disciplinary step that you hope will lead the employee to a good standing.

As a manager, one of the best ways to create success within the team is to lead by example. Holding employees accountable for their actions while providing them a way in which to improve is effective and ensures that those who are willing to put in the hard work are more likely to succeed throughout the performance improvement plan and beyond!

Delivering the Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

When it’s time to approach an employee who’s underperforming, it could be difficult to know how or with what information to use during the review. No one likes to deliver bad news, but in business that old saying rings true – someone has to do it. Some managers are familiar with how to administer performance improvement plans, while others have never needed to do it during their time in the workforce. It’s important to meet with all employees and provide a sense of dignity and compassion in the situation, as you never know what the employee is going through, or the reasons why their performance has decreased over time.

The purpose of a performance improvement plan (PIP) is to provide a range of facts and examples to the employee as to why the job performance has decreased, as well as providing a list of measurable and attainable goals or objectives to meet during a given timeframe. The timeframe for such a plan often takes place for 60 to 90 days, depending on if there are additional skills or training that needs to be completed. Make sure you set a reasonable time frame with regular meetings to meet the performance goals.

There are various reasons why a performance improvement plan is administered, usually to correct behaviors, but also to prevent a bad habit from becoming worse. Unfortunately, the recurring performance issues are evident in performance reviews with performance standards not being met. It’s always better to fix something early on than to let it become more of an issue down the road.

While delivering the performance improvement plan might not be easy, it’s well worth the time taken to improve the relationship with the employee and enhance their performance in a business. You may also find that an employee falls back on using personal issues as an excuse but you need to remain objective. Good HR professionals can help you navigate when an employee starts discussing personal problems.

There is always a good – and bad – way to deliver news. Some managers prefer a stern and gruff tone of voice to make a point because they feel it will help the employee ‘shape up’ if they think their job is on the line. While their job is likely on the line if they don’t improve, it doesn’t do much to boost the self-esteem or confidence of a struggling employee when a manager starts a performance improvement review in a defensive or rude manner. Just as in everyday communication, this is the fastest way for an employee to shut down and feel defeated right away. A key piece of advice: deal with each specific issue in an objective fashion. Though an employee might exhibit behavioral issues or is known as having a poor attitude, and you might be a frustrated manager, a good PIP is one that sticks to specific areas to address performance deficiencies.

As a manager, it’s a part of the job to deliver bad news or to enforce disciplinary action – but it must be done respectively and with dignity. One of the key ways to communicate with others, especially when it involves highlighting what someone is doing wrong, is to point out something they are doing right. Suppose your employee is consistently late to work each day, but provides thorough weekly reports or data as requested by other departments in the office. Though tardiness is cause for drawing up a performance improvement plan, there are positive attributes contributed to the employee – mentioning these attributes is a great way to ensure the employee opens up and increases a positive response to the plan.

There are a few tips for planning and delivering a performance improvement plan – follow these guidelines when interacting with an employee during any such situation:

  • Prepare the message – Remain professional and objective by writing up the performance improvement plan and have it reviewed by someone in Human Resources. This will ensure that the tone is neutral and that any goals set forth within the plan can be realistically met. To help prepare even more for the meeting, practice what you want to say to the employee or write down some notes to use in the meeting so you can touch upon any of the positive or negative points, as needed.
  • Always start with something positive – You don’t want the employee to shut down or get defensive before you can even go through the performance improvement plan, so starting out with a compliment or ways in which the employee is doing well is always a good start. This will ensure the employee is more receptive to your critiques and feels that you are there to help him get better, rather than watch him effectively lose his job.
  • Speak plainly – The point of a PIP is to get an employee back on track in specific areas – always keep the language clear and concise so there is no room for misinterpretation. Throughout the meeting, ask for input from the employee so you can better understand his or her point of view.

No one likes to be critiqued, but the way in which a performance improvement plan is delivered can make all the difference – always keep the tone friendly and professional so that the employee understands you are there to help.

Ways to Increase the Effectiveness of a Performance Improvement Plan

Creating a performance improvement plan is only half the battle when you want to get your employee back on track or performing at the potential you know they can reach. Unfortunately, there are going to be some times in which even your best efforts as a manager aren’t enough to prompt them to improve and meet the objective goals or skills set forth through the performance improvement plan.

So what do you do?

In some cases, a performance improvement plan is all that is needed for some employees to snap out of a slump and improve the way they work, but there are those who are going to need a little more help along the way. It’s up to you as a manager to determine how much you want to assist your employee – are you willing to devote the extra time needed to improve performance, or do you just want to test their ability to sink or swim when the time comes to administer a performance improvement plan? High performing employees provide the business a range of benefits, so it makes sense to try to help them meet that potential – after all, it’s easier to take action right away rather than let work productivity or bad habits get to the point that you need to let an employee go.

There’s more involved than just creating the performance improvement plan, which contains a list of examples or facts about the employee’s habits or issues, followed by a range of objectives and goals that must be met according to designated milestones or further disciplinary action will take place.

During a meeting with the employee, it’s important to listen to his or her feedback for a few reasons – first, it helps the employee understand that you are trying to help fix the problem rather than terminate their position, and second, it helps you understand why and how there has been a decrease in productivity.

During the performance improvement plan, you might just learn how you can become an even more effective manager! Here are some additional ways to increase the effectiveness of a performance improvement plan throughout the next 60 to 90 days…and beyond:

  • Preparation is key – The only way you can run an effective business and ensure the PIP is working is to understand who your employees are – including strengths and weaknesses. Creating objectives or goals in the improvement plan that is impossible for certain employees to meet is just setting everyone up for failure. That’s not to say that you need to let your employees dictate how you manage the business, but helping them reach success is ideal for everyone involved.
  • Keep lines of communication open – The real way any improvement plan is going to succeed is if the communication is open between employees and managers. Keeping the dialogue open between the entire team helps boost employee confidence and engagement – two things every manager wants to have within a business. Open communication also allows managers to express clearly what they expect in terms of performance and productivity so employees are never surprised should they receive an improvement plan or disciplinary action.
  • Stay on top of performance evaluations – The life of a manager is often stressful and filled with a range of tasks, but spending just 15 to 30 minutes to administer performance evaluations every three or six months is a great way to stay connected with employees and make any adjustments before issues get out of hand. Spending time with your employees is also a crucial way to let them know you care how they’re doing.
  • Offer a challenge – Depending on the employee, sometimes a decrease in productivity is simply a result of feeling bored. When an employee doesn’t feel challenged, it can be easy to slip into a lackadaisical way of thinking and performing – another reason why it’s important to understand the needs of your employees and engage with them frequently. Creating a list of objectives or skills within a performance improvement plan might be just the thing they need in order to feel relevant or useful on the job!

The relationship between a manager and employee is a tricky one – you want to be accommodating and friendly, while still maintaining that leadership role. Providing your employees with measurable goals and communication are two ways in which to boost the effectiveness of a performance improvement plan, but don’t forget to recognize efforts of the employees on a job well done!

Writing a performance improvement plan can be a challenging task, even for a seasoned manager. You can use our performance review generator to find the right words to use when preparing a performance improvement plan (PIP) for your staff.