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  • Writer's picturePavan Khoobchandani

Tips For A Better Employee Performance Improvement Plan

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

The "dreaded" Performance Improvement Plan - sometimes thought of as simply the first step to firing an employee, other times thought of a useful tool to develop underperforming staff. How can an employer make the most of a PIP to ensure it's viewed as useful exercise, not a legal hoop to jump through?

What is a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)?

A Performance Improvement Plan is a formal document that communicates to an employee that there is an issue with their work performance and provides them a road map of how they can improve. PIPs are useful because they clearly communicate expectations to employees and make sure everyone is on the same page with regards to what needs improving - and by when. PIPs are typically created in consultation with the employee's supervisor, and may involve other members of management or HR as needed.

The goal of a PIP is to help the employee improve their performance so that they can remain an asset to the company. It should be noted that not all employees who receive a PIP will necessarily be fired. In fact, a good rule of thumb is that if you don't think that an employee's performance can actually improve, it may be better to terminate the employee rather than put them on a PIP (because you have already documented the performance issues, right?).

Creating a Performance Improvement Plan: Tips for Employers

When creating a PIP, it is important to keep the following tips in mind:

  • A PIP should not generally be the first time that the employee is learning that they are not meeting expectations. You should be providing your employees with periodic feedback on their performance, ideally so small issues can be resolved before they become larger ones.

  • In writing the PIP, identify specifically what the issue or issues are with the employee's performance. Be as clear as possible in explaining the issue, and remember to stick with facts that can be verified.

  • Provide specific recommendations on how the employee can improve their performance and examples of what "good" would look like. For example, if you want an employee to arrive at work by a certain time each day, explain specifically why this is important (e.g., they are missing out on important meetings) and what good looks like ("I need you at your desk ready for our morning meeting every day by 9:00am").

  • Set reasonable deadlines for improvement - for some issues such as being more open to criticism, it is not reasonable to expect employees to change overnight. Expecting too much too soon will set both yourself and the employee up for failure. For other issues, such as using a spell checker on every document, an immediate change may be appropriate.

  • Make sure you are providing the employee with proper training and resources to help them improve. If you expect your employees to perform at a certain level, they must be given the tools needed for success.

  • There is often specific language used in a PIP to ensure that it does not constitute a contract of employment and makes clear to the employee that the PIP does not change the at-will status of their employment, if they are an employee at-will. Consult with your employment lawyer if you do not have a PIP template that you use.

Remember - the goal of a PIP should be to help the employee improve their performance so that they can stay with the company!

When Is a PIP Used?

A PIP should be considered if an employee has been written up or given a verbal warning for unsatisfactory work habits/behaviors but does not seem to be improving despite these efforts.

If the issue is relatively minor (e.g., the employee occasionally misses deadlines), then it may not be necessary to create a full-blown PIP; instead, you can just document the conversation in their personnel file and continue monitoring their progress over time.

However, if there have been multiple write ups or warnings issued related to this specific issue and still no improvement, it may be time to develop a PIP.

When in doubt, it is best to consult with your company's HR department or management team to see if a PIP is warranted. Generally speaking however, PIPs should be used as a last resort after all other attempts at improvement have failed.

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Contrary to often popular belief, PIPs can be an effective way to get an employee back on track and improve their performance. That's what everyone wants at the end of the day, right?


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