child sitting in front of chalkboard with dunce hat

How to create a performance improvement plan

September 5, 2019

written by
Barbara O Stephenson

A performance improvement plan isn’t the end of all things.

It is not a punishment, it is not because an employee is stupid (or a dunce), or because someone is about to be fired. It’s about making things better and helping people become the best they can be for the benefit of themselves and the business. On your part it takes dedication, follow up, and clarity to make sure it works. Creating a performance improvement plan (or PIP) is a pain in the @&$ (or PITA) precisely because you want people to succeed. If you don’t have that conviction to see it to the end, stop reading now. If you’re ready, read on and let’s call our mystery employee “Alex,” for the sake of reading ease.

First off, we need to identify the baseline. What are the actual job duties of the person in question?  Alex needs clear deliverables and duties in order for you to write a PIP. It also helps to have a signed employee handbook. If Alex is always late, the handbook should state the time all employees are expected to be at work. That’s generally not in a job description but you can add it there too if needed. If Alex is just a jerk, then you’ve got to put something in the job description about “collaboration” and perhaps “professionalism”. If you don’t have that already established, you need to review the job description and handbook with Alex and get Alex to sign their job description/ handbook. Really, everyone should do this at the start of their job so bad on you if you don’t already have it done.

Once Alex knows what’s expected of them and is still late to work, then you can start with the PIP. There are lots of templates available for this online, but generally it has the following outline:

  1. Employee Name
  2. Manager Name
  3. Date
  4. Description of the issue directly tied back to job duties
  5. Examples of not meeting expectations with dates and details (I like to do three)
  6. Outline of changes to be made
  7. Consequences of not meeting expectations and the date for when you expect a resolution

After you’ve got it all documented, you need to sit down with Alex and review the PIP. Alex needs to agree to it, and you both should sign it or have some record of the agreement.

Now comes the tough part. You have to follow up with Alex on this weekly to make sure that the PIP is being followed. Going back to our earlier example, if Alex is supposed to be checking in at a specific time, you need to follow up and make sure that this is occurring. If I have ever given a PIP, my outline of changes that need to be made always include my support somehow. Meaning that if Alex is supposed to check in with me daily when they go online, I have to be there. I can’t use excuses because I need to show that I’m dedicated to the success of my team member and will do what it takes to get them to the place they need to be.

As a manager, it can be tough to alter your working habits to help a coworker grow professionally, but it shows you care about them personally and want them to succeed. In general, performance improvement should be on everyone’s list. If you’re mentoring people or want to create a succession plan, you are working with people who need to grow. A PIP is for those who need a little more guidance.

The next management series will be on Creating Change and how to push major, or minor, changes in your business.