6 Tips on How to Write a Performance Improvement Plan

Is there any phrase in HR that makes hearts sink faster than “performance improvement plan?” 

At first glance, that makes sense: Performance improvement plans are a last-chance effort to turn around employee performance before termination. But, these performance improvement plans (or PIPs) get a bad rap. When used effectively, performance improvement plans can turn around poor performance and bring about lasting change. 

But, and here’s the kicker, everybody (HR, the manager, and the employee) all have to commit to implementing the performance improvement plan. 

Daunted? Don’t be. Read our comprehensive guide on how to write a performance improvement plan. By the end, you’ll not only know how to implement an effective PIP, but you’ll have examples and a template that you can use to bring your organization up to speed. 

Let’s get started. 

What is a performance improvement plan? 

A performance improvement plan (also known as a PIP) is a tool to improve failing performance. In a performance improvement plan, the manager and HR lay out the specific areas where the employee’s performance has not met the workplace standards. 

Then, the performance improvement plan lists the specific steps, goals, and expectations that need to be met. 

Lastly, the performance improvement plan will have a timeline (usually 90 days) for the completion of the plan. Sometimes, there are check-ins every 30 days to make sure progress is on the right track. 

If, by the end of the performance improvement plan timeline, the employee has met all the objectives, then they complete the PIP and continue working. However, if an employee is not able to meet all the metrics of the performance improvement plan, then they are subject to termination. 

When should HR implement a performance improvement plan? 

Performance improvement plans should not be implemented in an ad hoc manner. Instead, HR needs to set company-wide standards that determine when a performance improvement plan is appropriate. 

Here are some instances when a performance improvement plan could be helpful:

  • An employee has a history of poor performance in several areas of work 
  • Their poor performance has been documented prior
  • Both the manager and the employee have a desire to fix the performance 

PIPs should be used when multiple areas of poor performance could be grounds for termination but could be fixed with concerted effort. 

On the other hand, performance improvement plans should not be used as a paper trail to justify a poorly performing employee. If a manager isn’t committed to helping turn around a subordinate’s performance, there is no use in forcing an employee to go through the laborious PIP process. Similarly, a performance improvement plan should not be used if an employee exhibits egregious behavioral issues or commits illegal acts (such as theft of company property). 

When an employee only has a performance issue in one specific area, it might be overkill to implement a performance improvement plan. Instead, it can be more beneficial to use goal setting and performance reviews to motivate employees to improve their performance in a targeted manner. 

What are the benefits of using a performance improvement plan? 

When used appropriately, a performance improvement plan can save an employee’s career. Take a look at all the ways that a great performance improvement plan can benefit an employee who has fallen behind. 

Offers an employee the chance to salvage their career 

This can’t be overstated. A performance improvement plan is a lifeline. A failing employee is given one last chance to get their ducks in a row and keep their job – instead of being let go. 

Let’s face it, being terminated is terrible! You lose your pay, your healthcare, your benefits – it’s a hard reality to face. 

Knowing that failure means termination, an employee on a PIP can be motivated to legitimately address their shortcomings. That’s why the performance improvement plan is a good tool. It gives an employee a chance – and puts the fate of their employment in their hands. 

Performance improvement plans rely on fair, transparent metrics

Performance improvement plans have specific, measurable goals and metrics that employees must meet. If, for example, an employee was consistently tardy, her PIP might state that she must “clock in by 9:00 a.m. every day for 90 days.” Success or failure would be easy to measure. 

Another common goal might be for an employee to send a check-in email every Monday morning with their tasks for the week and then a follow-up email detailing everything that was completed and what needed to be pushed to the following week. 

For a salesperson, a clear metric might be that they must make X amount of cold calls every day and send Y amount of emails a week. 

In all of these examples, it is made transparent to the employee what success looks like. For HR and the manager, it is easy to determine whether the employee on the Performance Improvement Plan passed their goals. 

Improves communication 

Performance improvement plans require a lot of communication and check-ins between the employee and their manager. This increased level of communication (due to check-ins, mandated emails, or simply keeping managers apprised of) is a good thing, as it strengthens the communication cycle between manager and employee. With each check-in, the employee provides evidence of their progress, and managers can more readily see where issues are arising. This increased communication frequency can ultimately strengthen the employee-manager relationship, which can pay dividends even after the PIP has been completed. 

Track individual goals along with performance reviews with PerformYard.Learn More

Reduces liability for your company 

Look, sometimes a performance improvement plan doesn’t pan out. Sometimes, despite an organization’s best efforts, an employee needs to be terminated. But, by having an objective and clearly defined performance improvement plan, you have clear documentation of an employee failing to meet the metrics for employment. 

This can protect your organization from a wrongful termination suit – as you have clear evidence that the employee in question did not succeed at their key objectives. 

Empowers employees

Lastly, a performance improvement plan empowers employees. Why? Because it gives them the key, transparent goals that they need to meet to continue working in their role. It is up to them to meet the goals. If they meet the goals, they pass the PIP. 

The cons of a performance improvement plan 

Performance improvement plans are not a cure-all. There are real cons and drawbacks to their use in the workforce. Keep these in mind as you work on implementing performance improvement plans. 

Requires real commitment

Performance improvement plans require buy-in from HR, the manager, and the employee. An employee has to commit to meeting all the goals in the Performance Improvement Plan, while the manager has to commit to coaching the employee, checking in, and monitoring their progress. Similarly, HR has to commit to supervising the implementation of the PIP to make sure that the manager is providing adequate coaching and that the employee is meeting their metrics. 

It’s a high-effort tool, and this needs to be understood before beginning the process. 

The success rate is low. 

Most HR professionals already know this, but Performance Improvement Plan success rates are low. This can be chalked up to the fact that some performance issues are difficult to fix. For example, if a coder is simply slower than their peers, a 90-day performance improvement plan isn’t likely to be a long-term fix for slow performance. 

Another factor in the low success rate is the employee’s commitment to change. Many employees look at a PIP as a warning that they’ll be fired in 3 months. As a result, they use the next 3 months to look for a job. A way to guard against this is to have more frequent check-ins during the performance improvement plan, with key metrics at the 30, 60, and 90-day marks. If the first set of metrics isn’t achieved in the first month, then an employee can be let go. 

Performance improvement plans can be demoralizing

No employee wants to hear that their performance is so unsatisfactory that they’re at real risk of termination. As a PIP is a final warning before termination, this can demoralize an already poorly performing employee. If the employee feels that the objectives of the performance improvement plan are too strenuous, they can be further discouraged. This is why HR must be involved in the execution of the performance improvement plan, to make sure that the objectives are fair and that the employee receives adequate mentorship. 

Improved performance may not last forever

Many employees view a performance improvement plan (PIP) as a wake-up call. They turn their performance around, meet all the metrics, and pass the PIP. However, the motivation that the PIP provides for the short term doesn’t always translate to long-term success. After 4, 5, or 6 months, bad habits can sneak back in. 

This is why it is critical to focus on coaching, employee development, and frequent feedback – to make sure that the success of the performance improvement plan proves enduring. 

How to write a performance improvement plan

Getting started is often the hardest part of any new process. That’s true when it comes to figuring out how to write a performance improvement plan.

To help you, we’ve outlined these six simple steps to write a performance improvement plan. Let’s get to it!

1. Determine if a performance improvement plan is needed

The best way to get started is to dig into the data. It can illuminate what went wrong with an employee’s performance. Data is unbiased. It’s the best way to accurately determine whether the employee has made improvements ahead of their next review.

The first steps of writing a performance improvement plan for an employee include:

  • Finding examples of poor review scores
  • Finding examples of poor goal completion
  • Finding examples of poor peer feedback

Find examples of poor review scores

Before you even determine whether or not an employee needs a PIP, it’s important to get a big-picture view of their performance.

Look into their performance review results over time. Let’s say an employee’s performance reviews are becoming more and more negative every quarter. You may want to consider a performance improvement plan for that employee. 

At this stage, it’s important not to make any assumptions about why the employee has received a low score. Personal challenges outside of work and poor workplace support can cause low scores. Be sure to take a compassionate approach to a performance improvement plan conversation with any and every employee.

Find examples of poor goal completion

Receiving a PIP should never feel unfair or unwarranted. It should very clearly define examples of poor goal completion.

Outline any review questions where the employee received a poor score and document goals on their most recent review that were not met. Employees will be able to see that their performance improvement plan is based on impartial data—not management opinion.

The use of performance management software makes it easy to uncover poor review scores and poor goal completion. The data is accurate and compiled in one place. It’s also updated and tracked in real time. 

All data is transparent and accessible to employees, even before the next review or a PIP. When you use software, performance improvement plan conversations don’t come as a complete surprise

Find examples of poor peer feedback

According to one research statistic, 56% of employees who have a friend at work are engaged. In contrast, only 8 percent of employees who don’t have a friend at work report being engaged.

That doesn’t mean everyone has to be friends with everyone else in the workplace. That said, there are benefits to employees having good working relationships with co-workers.

Integrating 360 reviews into your performance review process allows employees to provide insights about each other. You can refer to these insights when creating a performance improvement plan for an employee.

Set up custom review cycles with check-ins and continuous feedback.Learn More

The feedback will show specific examples of instances where employees may have let down the team. It may also show how their interaction with others has impacted their review score or goal completion.

When creating a PIP, look for peer feedback that is tied to performance data. Do not include opinions, generalizations, or assessments of character in the plan. The goal is to outline the concrete reasons for having a performance improvement plan. 

2. Draft the Performance Improvement Plan

As an HR professional, you need to work with the employee’s manager to create a draft of the performance improvement plan. This draft needs to spell out:

  • The current areas of poor performance
  • The goals that the employee needs to meet
  • The resources the manager will provide
  • The frequency of check-ins and reviews
  • The timeline for the completion of the performance improvement plan
  • The consequences of failure

This document must be objective and focus on measurable outcomes. This way, when the employee is presented with the PIP, they clearly understand what they need to do to succeed. 

3. Meet with the employee

It’s time for the hard part – confrontation! You next need to meet with the employee – along with their manager. It is important to be as specific as possible when informing an employee that they are receiving a PIP. One way to do that is by showing data points on a performance management platform, like PerformYard. This approach ensures the employee knows why they are receiving a performance improvement plan.

Approach the conversation with compassion and be prepared to listen. It’s normal for employees to feel defensive about their performance, especially if they worry that it may impact their jobs. Bring a caring, team-oriented perspective to the conversation. Remember to also let the employee come up with their solutions

4. Work with the employee to set goals. 

PIPs get a bad rap for being ineffective. That’s because they are often focused on employee performance but not inclusive of the employee’s perspective. Every HR person should want their employee to take their performance improvement plan to heart. The way to do that is to work with the employee to develop goals that address performance issues.

Managers should uncover performance gaps such as poor review scores, poor goal completion, and poor peer feedback. The employee should then be brought in to create a plan that articulates what needs to be done.

This strategy enables you to approach the employee improvement plan as part of the professional development process. You can give the employee ownership over their improvement.

Once goals are set, ensure you track the metrics that you and your employee agreed on. A performance management software platform allows managers and employees to see progress in real time. The platform also ensures the process is as transparent as possible.

5. Set up frequent check-ins beyond the normal review cycle

An employee who is on a performance improvement plan needs extra attention to ensure they are on the right track. Build a specific review cycle for that employee that includes frequent check-ins so you can provide them with the support they need.

Reviews can be informal, with check-ins occurring frequently or infrequently. More formal check-ins could include monthly or quarterly reviews. You can also add more frequent goal milestones to ensure the employee is on their way to meeting their final goal.

Just make sure that goals are easy to access for check-ins and official reviews. You and your employee should reference PIP goals easily during review meetings and in between meetings.

What should you do if an employee fails a performance improvement plan? 

Performance improvement plans are objective tools with clearly defined success and failure. If an employee succeeds, then they continue working at your organization. If an employee fails, then the logical answer is termination. 

This is why your organization must provide adequate coaching and frequent check-ins during the PIP process – to ensure that the employee has every opportunity to succeed. 

H2: What is an example of a performance improvement plan? 

To better help you write a performance improvement plan, we have a performance improvement plan example for a Social Media Specialist.

Name: Camille S. 

Issue: Improper Postings 

Observations: In the last 90 days, twenty of your documented sixty postings had significant issues including: 

  • Spelling errors
  • Improper branding
  • Broken hyperlinks
  • Missing images

Expectations: As the face of our organization, you as the social media specialist must represent our company with clarity. This means that your copy should be free of mistakes, the branding should be in line with the style guide, and all links must work correctly. 

Goals and action items: 

  • Publish 95% of all social posts without the need for edits
  • Follow our social post checklist to ensure accuracy
  • Send all social posts to our copy editor for approval
  • Forward all requested edits to me at the end of each week for review

PIP timeline: 

This performance improvement plan will remain in effect for 60 days, with reviews at 15, 30, and 45 days. If at any review point, the goals are not currently met, you may be subject to termination. 

Performance Improvement Plan Template

To help you build an effective performance improvement plan, we want to give you a free Performance Improvement Plan template that you can use, edit, or customize to fit your company’s needs. 

Grab your free performance improvement plan template here. 

Using Performance Management Software to Design Your Performance Improvement Plan

As you have been reading about how to write a performance improvement plan, consider PerformYard as a solution. Our performance management software makes designing, implementing, and reviewing PIPs easy.

PerformYard provides you with a place to document and track goals, run check-ins, and adjust individual employee review cycles according to the level of support each employee needs. It can run 360 reviews, where you can uncover how others feel about a coworker’s performance. 

Perhaps most importantly, it can provide data that illuminates the need for a PIP in the first place. That way you know where your employees stand, but they get the feedback they crave too.

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