Taylor Tobin
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In order to effectively manage employees, you as a boss must establish and maintain open lines of communication. If a member of your team causes a project error or neglects to complete a timely task, it’s crucial to bring the situation immediately to their attention and work with them to rectify the issue and ensure that it doesn’t repeat itself.

However, if an employee falls into a pattern of productivity-draining mistakes that could ultimately threaten their job status, a performance improvement plan provides a clear and continuous way to bring their work up to appropriate standards and to therefore boost the output and morale of your team as a whole.

What is a performance improvement plan?

A performance improvement plan (also known as a “PIP”) is a document presented by a supervisor to her employee with an unambiguous statement of performance issues and a proposed strategy for correcting these problems. 

The latter portion should include a list of goals for the employee to achieve before restoring favorable status with the company, and many effective PIPs also offer an expected timeline for the completion of these goals. PIPs are typically delivered to employees either during a review process or in a meeting specifically intended to address this matter, often with an HR rep in attendance as a neutral witness. Signatures from you as the manager, the worker in question, and any witnesses solidify the document as a contractual agreement between you and your employee. 

When should you use a PIP?

While some managers do use PIPs as mere forms of documentation to bolster a planned firing, a good manager will implement one with the purpose of helping a struggling employee improve and putting her team in a stronger position to achieve their objectives. 

An employee is a strong candidate for a PIP if her less-than-ideal performance connects to a clear pattern of behavior. A one-off error doesn’t justify a PIP, but habitual mistakes can often be corrected through a well-conceived strategy with actionable steps. 

The most important element of a successful PIP involves consistent and direct communication throughout the process. Although the PIP in its written form should outline the employee’s improvement path, you as the manager should regularly check in with her to ensure that she understands the steps, to answer any questions she may have, and to track her progress. Depending on your personal management style, you may feel inclined to dismiss this as “hand-holding”, but your employee needs your support to get herself back on track- and your entire team deserves that investment, too. 

Examples of work circumstances that justify a PIP include:

  • Your employee typically performs well above standard expectations, but has one outstanding weakness that can be repaired with guidance and communication.
  • Your problematic employee is still a new hire within his or her probationary period and a PIP can be used to evaluate whether or not to retain this employee permanently.
  • Your company’s employee review period is underway and the employee in question won’t be eligible for a scheduled raise or promotion without improving her performance.
  • The terms of your company’s employment policies require managers to attempt to fix work issues before beginning termination proceedings.

How do you write a PIP?

A performance improvement plan should be introduced to an employee through a comprehensive conversation, but the official documentation of the PIP also holds major significance. Crafting a strong PIP requires you as the manager to both articulate the issues with your employee’s work and to clearly outline a step-by-step plan for improvement.

When writing a performance improvement plan, start with a description of the employee’s overall status at work. Give a detailed account of the employee’s issues and provide specific examples of subpar performance. Also, describe the effect of this below-standards work on your team and your company as a whole. 

Once you’ve explained the problems in writing, it’s time to come up with a plan for correcting them. This strategy should include to-the-point action steps designed to bring the employee’s work up to your expectations. Avoid vague suggestions during this segment; the more specific you are, the higher likelihood of success your employee will have. The PIP should also contain a timeline for completing these tasks and a clear endpoint for the plan with a scheduled meeting to discuss your employee’s progress.

Finally, your written PIP must directly explain the consequences of the employee’s failure to achieve the goals listed in the document. If you plan to terminate her employment if you don’t see clear improvement, state that in clear terms.

Example PIP

If your employee repeatedly misses deadlines, hindering your team’s ability to complete their work on schedule, your written PIP could look something like this:

Employee Name: Jane Doe

Employee Position: Executive Assistant

Performance Concern:

 On November 1, 2018, Executive X asked Jane Doe to take notes at a board meeting and send a meeting summary to all attendees by November 2. Jane Doe sent the summary on November 4, 2018, resulting in absent board members having only 1 day to review the notes before a crucial November 5th vote. 

On December 15, 2018, the marketing department asked Jane Doe to send pricing requests to 3 vendors by January 1, 2019. Ms. Doe did not send the emails until January 8, 2019. As a result, the marketing department lacked the necessary figures for its January 10th meeting with a major client.

Expected Performance Standards and Action Plan:

In order to perform her job according to Company X’s standards, Jane Doe must meet deadlines consistently and must communicate with the team if circumstances arise to cause difficulties. She must regularly respond to emails and phone calls and must attend regularly-scheduled check-in meetings with Manager X.

By January 10, 2019, Jane Doe must set up a Google Calendar with notification settings approved by Manager X. 

Jane Doe must reply to all received emails within 1 business day.

On January 15, 2019, Jane Doe and Manager X will have their first check-in meeting to discuss Jane Doe’s progress.

On January 20, 2019, Jane Doe and Manager X will have their second check-in meeting to discuss Jane Doe’s progress.

On January 25, 2019, Jane Doe and Manager X will have their third check-in meeting to discuss Jane Doe’s progress.

On January 31, 2019, Jane Doe and Manager X will meet to review the performance improvement plan and discuss next steps.

Support:

Executive Assistant X will train Jane Doe on Google Calendars on January 9, 2019.

Jane Doe will meet with marketing team managers on January 11, 2019 to review scheduling procedures.

Consequences:

If the outlined goals are not achieved by January 31, 2019, Jane Doe’s employment with Company X will be terminated.

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