What is a performance improvement plan?

5 min read  |   18 November, 2021   By Andy Stewart

Two colleagues are sat at a table together having a meeting. The female colleague is sat next to her laptop and is smiling at her male colleague who is smiling back and writing notes.

A performance improvement plan (PIP) isn’t a last resort or an excuse to let underperforming individuals go. In fact, it's an ideal way to help boost their performance in a constructive way.

Understanding performance improvement plans

A performance improvement plan or ‘performance review’ is a document that outlines existing issues, alongside goals and objectives to tackle them. For many employees this can be seen as a disciplinary action or the last step before getting fired. Your job is to help them understand that this is not a negative, but instead their path to future success.

With this in mind, look at each performance improvement plan as a collaborative journey between management and employee. Its aim? To help all parties reach their professional goals.

What you will find in a typical performance improvement plan can range from regular catch up meetings and extra training, to more stringent deadlines.

Your PIPs will work well as part of a clearly defined performance management process . In particular, you can incorporate them into your own performance management cycle.

Is a performance improvement plan a disciplinary action?

For many employees, being put on a PIP signals they’re at the beginning of the downhill race towards being let go. In a small way, this can be true. If the employee fails to deliver on the promises and expectations laid out in the performance improvement plan, letting them go can be an option. However, a performance improvement plan is not meant to be used as a tool to get an employee ‘out the door’.

Although it is used when an employee is underperforming, a PIP is not a disciplinary action, but a way of constructively improving. In fact, anyone can be put on a performance improvement plan. Even those who excel can find it useful to improve themselves.

What are the benefits of using a performance improvement plan?

Introducing an effective PIP can benefit both the employee and the organisation.

For the employee it can help them engage with the work they are doing. Detailed feedback on specific areas of their performance can help them address their weaknesses with more confidence.

Using a performance improvement plan also shows the business recognises the individual and the challenges they are facing. It shows they are not prepared to just let them fail.

For the organisation, it can help collect data on individual performances and find weak points across the business. This in turn identifies opportunities for improvement within the business, which everyone can benefit from. After all, a workforce with everyone performing is always stronger and more efficient than one which has employees who are struggling, unnoticed.

What should you include in your personal improvement plan?

If you think you need to create a performance improvement plan for an employee, there are few key elements to include to make sure it is effective.

Identify the root cause(s) of the sub-par performance

There may be something deeper to the employee’s drop in performance. Personal issues at home, family bereavement or a struggle with physical and mental health can lead to motivational loss and disengagement with their role. It can even be the case that your employee simply doesn’t find work challenging enough, making it hard for them to put in the required effort.

Talk these issues through and see if they feel it is negatively affecting their performance. Once these issues are identified, you can discuss how to manage them and improve their performance as a result.

Create a structure with clear and achievable goals

A clear structure can help an employee understand what goals and objectives they need to achieve—and exactly how to get there. It’s critical that your employee feels these goals are achievable, so ensure each goal and deadline is realistic.

Alongside this, organise regular check-ins as part of the structural framework of the performance improvement plan. This will help you see how the employee is progressing.

Communicate with your employees

When putting a clear performance improvement structure in place, it is important that you communicate regularly and effectively. A performance improvement plan is a collaborative process where employees and their seniors should be able discuss their progress towards their goals.

This should be done while also being able to say how it isn’t working and where it can be improved. Without clear communication, an employee may become disenfranchised with the plan. This may cause them to start acting with hostility towards the process and those that set the plan.

Be positive about the plan

Just because the employee is on a plan to remedy their underperforming, there is no reason to be negative about the process. By seeing the plan as an opportunity rather than a disciplinary action, you can construct a culture of optimism that shows that your employees are important. Express that your employee is integral to the company, otherwise you would have never hired them or taken the time to help them progress.

Provide training and support

Some drops in performance may simply be down to a skill gap you can address. Provide your employee with an opportunity to improve with extra support and training. Look at courses they can send them on, or find a mentor in business they can learn from.

Include HR in the process

We recommend including your HR team or professional in the performance improvement plan process. This will give you and the employee a qualified third party to communicate with. The HR professional can also provide feedback that is consistent and in line with all your company policies.

Example performance improvement plan

If you are unsure about where you should start when creating your own performance improvement plan, take a look at our example as a guide.

Employee information

Include the employee information here. Outline who they are alongside their role and responsibilities. Include the same information about their manager or supervisor.

What needs improvement

Describe what performance issues the employee is facing. Use specific examples of when company standards have not been met.

Expected outcomes

Write down the expected outcomes from the performance improvement plan. This will be their performance and behaviour.

How to achieve the objectives

Explain what actions need to be taken to achieve the objectives set out in the expected outcomes section.

Training and support

Agree upon what training the employee may need to improve their performance.

Check-ins and reviews

Discuss when both the manager and employee are available to implement regular check-ins and reviews.

These meetings should track performance and discuss potential blockers in progress.

Final review

Arrange a date for the final review which will discuss how they have performed alongside their objectives over the agreed period of time.

Create a company culture that encourages praise and feedback

Performance management is a vital tool to help facilitate regular feedback and boost business performance by encouraging the professional growth of your staff.

Breathe’s award-winning HR software empowers professional development across your business with clear task management. Get started with Breathe today and start setting meaningful, measurable objectives on an individual and company-wide level.

Author: Andy Stewart

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