Crafting a Performance Improvement Plan that Actually Helps People Improve: 6 Essential Steps

Crafting a Performance Improvement Plan that Actually Helps People Improve: 6 Essential Steps

When implemented correctly, a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) can benefit both the employee and the company. Let’s take a look at some best practices around writing a performance improvement plan that does what it promises: actually helps employees improve!

June 27th, 2022

An Employee Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a formal document targeted to help improve performance through talent management and a specific strategy. The goal of a PIP is to express any continuous or recurring behavioral and performance issues, outline attainable goals, and attempt to curb maladaptive behaviors. Although many people view PIPs as signifiers of a probationary period for employees, the reality is that, in the right situations, PIPs can benefit both the employee and the company. Let’s take a look at some best practices around writing a performance improvement plan that does what it promises: actually helps employees improve!

When Should You Implement An Employee Performance Improvement Plan?

‘’A PIP should be used when there is a commitment to help the employee improve, not as a way for a frustrated manager to start the termination process.’’ SHRM

The following situations are examples of when a PIP could be warranted:

  • During an employee’s probationary period with the company.
  • If a typically high-performance employee has been showing recent signs of lowered performance.
  • When an employee is showing signs of underperformance; e.g. decreased engagement, taking excessive time off, or are becoming unpunctual/unavailable regularly.
  • When an employee is experiencing personal problems which are having effects on their performance recently.
  • When the employee is struggling with quantifiable goals: e.g. hitting sales goals, KPIs, OKRs, and other quantity objectives.


1. Develop A Draft Plan

Once the need for a PIP has been established, the manager creates a draft of the plan for HR to review. An improvement plan should include:

  • Information on the employee's current performance, and what desired levels of performance would look like.
  • Specifics regarding the employee’s performance; including dates, data and rational, thorough explanations.
  • Specific and measurable objectives, such as SMART goals.
  • Guidance on what management will do to help the employee achieve these goals, such as providing training or coaching.
  • Clarifying consequences for not meeting the objectives of the plan; such as transfer or termination.

2. Provide Regular Communication Throughout the Process

Employees experiencing PIPs may be feeling particularly vulnerable, and perhaps isolated from the organization. To prevent this feeling from occurring, regular check-ins are essential. They provide structure and consistent direction and can prevent employees from feeling isolated or going off track.

2. Don’t Lose Sight of the Personal Side

Often, employees have root causes to performance problems that may be attributable to factors other than work. Have they recently undergone a family bereavement or other personal issues? Is there something troubling them in their professional life? While respecting boundaries, try to

discuss any potential issues the employee may have with honesty and respect. Discuss whether they feel it is getting in the way of their performance, and discuss how best to deal with it.

3. Look On The Bright Side: Positivity Matters

While it’s important to address the underlying signs of why the PIP is required, focusing too much on the negative aspects of the employee’s performance may actually inhibit progress.

Too much negative feedback can lead to a downward spiral of lower morale. To avoid this happening, look on the bright side. What positives can you spot in the employee’s performance? What areas do they succeed in which could be further cultivated?  Convey to the employee that they are a valuable member of the company. No one wants to be told that they are bad at their job, and being placed on a PIP it is inevitable that this thought may cross their mind.

4. Provide Extra Employee Support In The Form Of Resources, Training, Or Coaching

Don’t let your struggling employees - or any employees, for that matter, go it alone!

A good tactic to improve the effectiveness of your PIP is to provide extra support. The employee’s poor performance may have been caused by a lack of training. If an employee has gone through a poor onboarding process with minimal support, they may struggle when given tasks with real responsibility. Make sure to reflect on these possibilities and brainstorm ways to guide the employee appropriately. Consider whether the employee would benefit from courses or coaching, and take the necessary steps to make it happen.


5. Plan For The Future: Implementing Next Steps

If the employee has responded positively by meeting their objectives and goals, the manager should formally close the PIP, recognize the employee's success and allow the employee to continue employment.

If the employee is unable to improve or if his or her performance worsens, the PIP should be closed, and possible reassignment, demotion or termination should be considered, based on the specific circumstances.

When the employee is committed to improvement but falls short of the objectives within the established timeline, it may be worthwhile to extend the plan to give them a bit more time to succeed.

In Conclusion

We hope you have enjoyed learning about the concrete steps needed to implement an effective PIP. Remember, the right balance of respectfulness, kindness, and understanding paired with the necessary protocol to improve employee performance can go a long way in gaining effective and long-lasting results.


If you are interested in learning more about coaching to improve employee performance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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