How to Write a Performance Improvement Plan + Free Template

How to Write a Performance Improvement Plan
6
min read
March 26, 2021

Here’s an unfortunate truth: Every manager will have to deal with an underperforming employee at some point. Some employees have trouble hitting deadlines or others deliver lackluster results.

And yet, Gallup reports that only two in 10 employees feel that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do high-quality work. There’s a lot your employees need—and ongoing communication about their performance is definitely near the top of the list. 

How do you make that a priority? In some cases a performance improvement plan (PIP), also known as a performance action plan, can increase clarity for your employees. 

What Is a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)?

Employee performance improvement plans are exactly what they sound like: plans to improve an employee’s performance.

An employee performance improvement plan is an official document that lays out any repetitive and continuous behavioral and performance issues, as well as a plan for solving them. A PIP is helpful for encouraging struggling employees to take corrective action.

In general, a PIP serves two purposes: 

  1. To correct an employee’s performance to help them succeed in their role

  2. To discern if the employee’s performance can be improved, and to document the dismissal process if necessary

Why Use a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)? 

Believe it or not, your employees want to have conversations about how to gain new skills and advance within your company, but they might not always be willing to ask for that sort of feedback. 

Different research from Gallup found that 87 percent of millennials care about opportunities for professional development in their jobs, and yet only 15 percent of them strongly agree that they routinely ask for feedback. And according to the same research, just a third of millennials are willing to ask their manager for what they need most to get their work done.

The next generation to enter the workforce also isn’t afraid to have hard conversations and make mistakes either. One survey found that 63 percent of Gen Z workers want to hear constructive performance feedback throughout the year.

To address these development concerns—particularly for underperforming employees—managers may implement a performance improvement plan.

When to Use a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

Employee performance improvement plans are most frequently implemented when an employee is struggling to fulfill their responsibilities or meet their performance objectives. 

That can mean something different to every manager and every employee, so here are a few times when you might use a PIP to point an employee in the right direction: 

Here’s the gist: You can use a PIP whenever you think an employee’s performance could be improved, and ideally it’s the start of a collaborative process where you and the employee work together to help them excel in their roles. 

Tips to Create a Performance Improvement Plan

PIPs are nerve-wracking for everyone. So, how do you make the conversation easier and ensure the plan helps rather than hurts your working relationship? Here are a few tips to help: 

Finally, it’s worth connecting directly with your employee as you create the performance improvement plan. That will help you ensure that you’re not only hitting the areas where you think they need a boost, but also skills or duties where they’d like to advance. 

Performance Improvement Plan Template

Performance improvement plans change from employer to employer, but if you want to implement a PIP in your workplace, it’s wise to have a template in place. This will help you keep these documents consistent among your employees. 

Check out our free PIP template in Google Docs. Just click "make a copy" and you'll be taken to your own customizable template.

You can also customize our free PIP template in Google Sheets.

Your performance improvement plan should start with the basics of that employee, including their name, position, direct supervisor, and the date the plan took effect. 

Next, the meat and potatoes of the plan will include four basic components: specific improvement goals with reasonable expectations, a progress timetable with checkpoints, resources to help employees meet expectations, and potential consequences if goals aren’t met.

Section #1: Improvement Goals 

Your employee needs to know what they’re aiming for, so you need to clearly state what the acceptable performance looks like. Be specific when talking about problematic behavior or troubling performance and include examples to illustrate your point.

When it comes to future objectives, it’s helpful to create SMART goals. This acronym stands for:

Here’s an example you might include in an employee’s plan: Improve customer service scores for the month of March, receiving no more than one customer complaint for the month. 

Since the PIP is a formal document, you also need to attach the employee’s job description, documentation of previous discussions, and any other relevant data. Create a simple checklist to include with your PIP templates to confirm you include the necessary documentation each time. 

Section #2: Timeframe with Checkpoints and Deadlines

As forgiving and understanding as you want to be, performance issues can’t stretch into eternity. You’ll need to set a timeline for how long the performance improvement plan extends. What this timeframe looks like is up to you, but in general, deadlines for PIPs are usually 30, 60, or 90 days.

Goals only matter when there’s a plan in place for success, and you need to commit to working alongside your employee to reach those attainable goals. Your PIP needs to include regular check-ins to allow employees to voice concerns. Don’t wait until the deadline to determine progress.

Section #3: Resources

To help your employee reach your goals, you should provide them with any resources that can help them complete their activities. This can range anywhere from job shadowing to additional education, mentoring, or even time off for therapy sessions.

Regardless of the specific incentive or opportunity, you need to be able to answer these questions:

Section #4: Explain Any Potential Consequences for Failing to Improve

Here’s the not-so-fun part: You also need to make any potential consequences, if any, clear to the employee. If an employee fails to meet your performance expectations during the PIP process over a period of time, that may require disciplinary action, a demotion, or even termination.

However, since PIPs are often red flags to employees, it’s critical that your employee doesn’t take the PIP as a sign they will soon be fired. The PIP itself isn’t a disciplinary action, rather, it's a step to help them course correct.

With that in mind, try to focus on improvement over punishment by setting an improvement goal that benefits everyone. Remember, the end result of any performance review should be to help staff members raise their performance levels in their current role.

Help Your Employees Achieve Peak Performance

Despite the fact that performance improvement plans can raise some red flags with your employees, they’re an invaluable tool for supporting your team members as they grow with your business and advance in their careers. 

A performance improvement plan itself isn’t a disciplinary action, but is instead designed to show your employees that you’re invested in their performance and committed to helping them take steps in the right direction—rather than blindsiding them with some sort of reprimand.

So, if you’ve been correcting repeated mistakes from an employee or simply think they’re capable of more in their role, this sort of document can help you get everybody on the same page.

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