Performance Improvement Plans: A guide to success

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Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) play a crucial role in the performance management process, serving as a structured pathway for employees to address performance gaps and reach their full potential. By understanding how to effectively utilise a performance improvement plan process, SMBs can foster a culture of continuous improvement whilst supporting employee growth. 

In this guide we answer the question ‘what is a performance improvement plan?’, explore the purpose and benefits of PIPs, as well as discuss the best practices for implementation. 

What is a Performance Improvement Plan?

A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a formal document outlining specific actions an employee needs to take to address performance concerns that fall below established expectations. Unlike a Performance Development Plan (PDP) which focuses on growth and skill acquisition, a PIP is specifically designed to address current performance issues and get an employee back on track. While both plans aim to improve performance, a PIP serves as a more targeted intervention for employees who need to demonstrate significant improvement within a specific timeframe. 

Why could an Employee be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan?

While being placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) may seem concerning to an employee, it doesn't always reflect a lack of effort. Sometimes, even dedicated employees can encounter challenges that hinder their performance. Reasons for needing a PIP can include:  

  • Consistently missing deadlines 
  • Failing to meet key performance indicators 
  • Demonstrating a lack of required skills 
  • Engaging in repeated behavioural issues. 

Performance Improvement Plans work to address these specific concerns and provide the employee with a clear path to improvement. 

5 Benefits of a Performance Improvement Plan

Performance improvement plans (PIPs) offer various benefits for both the employee and the employer. Let’s take a look at each of them...  

1. Increased Employee accountability  

A key benefit of Performance Improvement Plans is increased employee accountability. By clearly outlining performance improvement expectations, timelines, and consequences, a PIP establishes a framework where employees take ownership of their improvement journey. 

2. Increased clarity 

PIPs promote increased clarity for both employees and managers. The plan explicitly outlines specific performance expectations, which eliminates any ambiguity surrounding job expectations and ensures everyone involved understands the exact areas needing improvement and the desired outcome. 

4. Documentation

A crucial benefit of Performance Improvement Plans lies in their comprehensive documentation. This written record serves as a clear and objective timeline of performance concerns, outlined actions, and provided support. This documentation protects both the employer and the employee. It provides a record of the steps taken to address performance issues, potentially mitigating legal challenges for the employer, and it provides the employee with a tangible reference point for their improvement journey.  

5. Potential Staff Retention

PIPs can significantly improve employee retention, by providing struggling employees with a clear path to improvement and outlining the support available. This demonstrates the businesses commitment to their employee's success, whilst creating a sense of value and belonging which reduces the likelihood of employees seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Addressing Performance Improvement Plans

Initiating a conversation about Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) is rarely a straightforward task. Employees may feel defensive or even fear job security upon hearing the term. While most managers approach PIPs with genuine concern and a desire to support improvement, the focus on performance shortcomings can make it an inherently uncomfortable and potentially stressful subject for both parties. 

5 Steps to create an effective Performance Improvement Plan

1. Gather Information: 

Identifying performance issues is crucial for creating an effective PIP and involves pinpointing specific areas where the employee falls short of expectations. Gathering concrete evidence and data will strengthen the foundation of the PIP. This could include: 

  • Missed deadlines 
  • Performance metrics 
  • Documented instances of behavioural concerns 

Doing so allows for a clear and objective assessment of the situation, ensuring the plan addresses the actual performance gaps and provides a realistic roadmap for improvement. 

Clearly outlining the specific performance standards and expectations for an employee’s role entails referencing the employee's job description and relevant company policies to ensure alignment. By explicitly stating the desired outcomes and expected behaviours, the PIP sets a clear benchmark against which the employee's performance can be measured. 

2. Create a PIP Document: 

A well-structured PIP document should encompass the following key sections: 

  • Introduction: Briefly state the purpose of the PIP, mentioning that it addresses performance concerns discussed in previous meetings. 
  • Areas for Improvement: List the specific performance issues identified and provide concrete examples and data to support each concern. 
  • Action Plan: Outline SMART goals for improvement in each area addressed and detail specific actions the employee must take to achieve these goals. Specify any training or support offered to assist the employee. 
  • Timeline: Set a realistic timeframe for achieving each SMART goal. 
  • Communication & Feedback: Establish a schedule for regular check-in meetings to discuss performance improvement progress and provide feedback. This ensures open communication and allows for adjustments to the plan as needed.
  • Consequences: Outline the potential consequences of not meeting the outlined goals. This could include further performance management action or potential termination of employment. 

3. Conduct a Meeting 

Following the creation of the PIP document, HR should schedule a private meeting with the employee. This provides a dedicated space to clearly present the Performance Improvement Plan process, explaining the identified performance concerns and the outlined action plan. The employee should be encouraged to ask questions and address any concerns they may have. Before finalising the document, ensure the employee acknowledges and understands the contents of the PIP, including the goals, timeline, and potential consequences. This open communication and confirmation of understanding are crucial for a successful PIP implementation. 

4. Follow Up and Monitor Progress:

Following the initial PIP meeting, regular check-in meetings are crucial for monitoring progress. These meetings allow for: 

  • Tracking progress: Assessing the employee's performance against the outlined goals and timeline. 
  • Providing support: Identifying any roadblocks the employee faces and offering additional resources or support as needed. This could include mentorship programs, training opportunities, or adjustments to the action plan. 
  • Giving feedback: Providing constructive feedback on the employee's progress, acknowledging improvements, and offering guidance for continued development. 
  • Documenting progress: Maintaining detailed notes of each meeting, including discussions, observations, and any adjustments made to the plan. This comprehensive documentation serves as a clear record of the employee's progress and the support provided throughout the PIP process. 

5. Evaluate and Next Steps: 

Upon reaching the end of the PIP period, managers should conduct a thorough assessment of the employee's progress against the established goals. If the employee has met or exceeded the outlined expectations, the Performance Improvement Plan can be successfully concluded.  

However, if the employee's performance falls short of the required standard, further action is necessary. In such cases, the manager should discuss the shortcomings with the employee and determine the next steps. This could involve extending the PIP with revised goals and timelines, providing additional support or training, or initiating further performance management procedures, potentially leading to termination of employment as a last resort. 

Top tips for implementing a performance improvement plan

Maintain a professional and objective tone throughout the PIP process 

Focus on the specific performance concerns and the desired improvement, avoiding personal attacks or emotional language. 

Focus on improvement and providing support to the employee

The goal of a PIP is not to punish but to provide a clear pathway for the employee to address their shortcomings and reach their full potential. 

Document everything thoroughly

Maintain detailed records of all conversations, meetings, progress updates, and adjustments made to the PIP. This comprehensive documentation serves as a clear record of the process and protects both the organization and the employee. 

Looking for a comprehensive PIP template that you can customise for your specific needs? Click here to download. 

Performance Improvement Plan Examples:

Here are a few common scenarios where a Performance Improvement Plans might be implemented:

Meeting Job Role Expectations

An employee may struggle to consistently meet the core requirements of their position, such as failing to achieve key performance indicators (KPIs) or displaying a lack of required skills. The PIP would outline specific areas for improvement and provide tailored support, such as additional training or mentorship programs. 

Attendance Improvement

Consistent lateness, absenteeism, or unauthorized leave can significantly disrupt workflow and productivity. A PIP focused on attendance improvement would set clear expectations for punctuality and outline potential consequences for continued violations. 

Training Completion

In some cases, an employee may be required to complete specific training programs as part of their job responsibilities. A PIP could be used to address delays or incomplete training, outlining a clear timeline for completion and offering any necessary support. 

How to get the most out of your employee's

Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) serve as a valuable tool within the performance management process, offering a structured pathway for growth and positive change. By clearly outlining specific improvement areas, setting SMART goals, and providing targeted support, PIPs empower employees to address performance gaps and reach their full potential. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement, increases employee accountability, and ultimately leads to a more productive and successful workforce. 

Remember, effective PIP implementation requires open communication, a focus on support, and thorough documentation throughout the process. 

To streamline your performance improvement plan process and create effective PIPs, consider utilising performance management software that provides comprehensive tools to track employee performance, set clear expectations, and manage PIPs effectively, ensuring a smooth and successful journey towards improved employee performance. 

Jack Tuhey
By Jack Tuhey Sales Executive

Jack Tuhey is a Sales Executive with 7+ years of experience at Access PeopleHR. Passionate about modernising internal processes for businesses and HR professionals, Jack aims to save customers valuable time and resources. With expertise in consultancy, direct sales, and SAAS product demonstrations, he tailors your demos for growth and efficiency.