How to Prepare Performance Improvement Plans

Author: Wayne D. Garris

On many occasions, an employee's performance will not meet an employer's expectations. As an alternative to immediate disciplinary action, an employer may elect to place an employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP). Performance improvement plans are helpful when a supervisor has noticed a specific area or areas of underperformance and sets specific goals for employees to attain in order to improve performance.

The PIP is an ongoing process that requires monitoring and feedback from the supervisor. This guide will assist employers in preparing a PIP.

Step 1: Meet With the Employee Prior to Drafting the PIP

Before drafting the PIP, it is important to meet with the employee to discuss expectations, poor performance and the plan to move forward. A meeting will prevent the employee from being caught by surprise when receiving a PIP. Additionally, the employee may begin to demonstrate improved performance shortly after an informal discussion in order to maintain employment, in which case a PIP may not be necessary.

During this meeting, the supervisor should explain how and why the employee's performance is failing to meet expectations. Whenever possible, the supervisor should provide clear and specific examples of when the employee's performance was poor.

For example, telling the employee that others have complained about him or her being rude to customers does not give them much guidance. On the other hand, saying that on a specific date an employee overheard him or her tell a customer that the customer should "get over it" is a specific example of unprofessional conduct that provides guidance to the employee of what not to do.

The supervisor should provide the employee with clear guidance on how to meet expectations as well as inform the employee of the consequences of failing to improve performance. The supervisor should document the discussions had at this meeting and request that the employee sign the document. After the meeting, the supervisor should prepare the PIP.

Step 2: Identify the Issue(s) Requiring Improvement

Clearly state the deficiency that needs to be corrected and whether the issue is performance or behavioral. This is called a deficiency statement. Each problem should be stated separately. Examples of deficiency statements are:

  • Employee fails to complete work assignments in a timely manner.
  • Employee is rude and discourteous towards supervisors and co-workers.

When possible, performance improvement plans should list specific facts or events in which the problem occurred. Additionally, if the employee received any counseling or discipline related to the specific issues, this information should be included in the PIP. This section should be clear, objective and factual. There should be no opinions, hearsay or workplace gossip included in the PIP.

Step 3: Explain the Requirements of the PIP

Next, the PIP should explain what the employee is required to do in order to demonstrate satisfactory performance. This section should list clear, quantifiable objectives for the employee to show improvement. List the specific work requirement that needs improvement and how the employee's progress will be measured. The PIP should consist of both short-term and long-term goals.

Set a deadline by which the employee must satisfy the requirements of the PIP.

The length of the deadline may vary depending on the level of improvement needed and how long it might take to measure improvement. However, the employee should be able to realistically achieve the goals in the length of time specified.

The PIP should also set consequences for failure to improve. If the issue is behavioral, the employee could be subject to discipline. If the issue concerns performance, the consequence may be demotion.

Step 4: Describe Resources Available to Assist the Employee

Performance improvement plans should identify and provide information on how to obtain the resources, materials, training and coaching that the employee can use to meet expectations. Commonly used resources include:

  • Training seminars;
  • Coaching by a supervisor or experienced employee; or
  • Employee Assistance Program (typically for behavioral issues).

Step 5: Set a Time Period for the PIP

The PIP must clearly set a deadline for the employee to display some evidence of improvement. Depending on the severity of the employee's poor performance or misconduct, and the length of time it might take for additional training if that applies, the time period for a PIP can be several days to several months. However, it is in the employer's best interest to limit the length of the PIP in the event that the employee shows no signs of improvement and needs to be dismissed.

Supervisors should not ignore the employee's progress until the last day of the PIP. The supervisor should meet with the employee regularly to check on progress and provide assistance if needed. The purpose of the PIP is to help an employee become more successful, so the employer will have to use time and resources to improve the employee's chance of success.

Step 6: Review the PIP With the Employee

Once the supervisor has prepared the PIP, the supervisor should meet with the employee to review the final document. The supervisor should read through the entire PIP to ensure that the employee understands what the expectations are, how the employee failed to meet expectations, and what is required of the employee in order to improve performance. The employee should also be given an opportunity to ask any questions about the PIP. After review, the supervisor should have the employee sign the PIP.

Although this information should be included in the PIP, the supervisor should review the consequences for failure to meet the requirements of the PIP. The employee may be subject to discipline, or the supervisor may have the discretion to extend the time period for the PIP, depending on the nature of the problem.

An issue that may occur is that an employee may meet the requirements of the PIP to avoid undesirable consequences, but then resume the poor performance or behavior shortly thereafter. If an employer suspects that this may be an issue, a clause can be added to the PIP requiring the employee to maintain satisfactory performance or risk termination.

Supervisors should be clear that the purpose of the PIP is not to punish, but to help the employee be successful by providing clear goals for improvement.

Additional Resources

Performance Improvement Plan Form

Employee Management > Employee Discipline

Employee Management > Performance Appraisals

Employee Management > Employee Handbooks - Work Rules - Employee Conduct

Progressive Discipline Policy