data-driven insights

Guide to Performance Improvement Plan (AKA PIP) in the workplace

Christina Miranda
LAST UPDATED
April 16, 2024
READING TIME
7 min.

You have an employee that seems kind of lost, and you want to get them back on track, whip out a PIP! But…

What is a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)?

A Performance Improvement Plan is essentially a document that is sent to an employee when their work isn’t meeting the expectations required by the business.

This document does not have to be static, rather it’s a two-way conversation where HR communicates with the underperforming employee and other managers, supervisors, and co-workers.

A PIP intends to offer a positive solution to an underlying issue that an employee may be having within this business, whether it’s because a specific tool is not being correctly, deadlines are not being properly met, or the job just isn’t meeting specific expectations and requirements.

In other words, it’s a document to enhance performance.

A PIP can cover specific areas within a job such as skill gaps or training. Basically, any deficiency the employee might be showing that could be affecting the general business, or that could potentially be harmful in the future if it’s not rectified. Bear in mind, that it’s always best to act on something before they have gone beyond repair.

It is important to set deadlines throughout the entire duration of a PIP which can last somewhere between 1 and 3 months. After that time, if the issue has not improved, or the employee has not attempted to improve it, chances are, nothing will change and other measures must be taken.

Benefits of a PIP

You hear the term Performance Improvement Plan, and your mind automatically defaults to “mistakes, bad”, but sending (and quite frankly, receiving) PIPs also come with a wide range of benefits that make them a powerful tool inside a business.

Benefits include:

  • Employees become more receptive to criticism if they know for a fact that they can still rectify the situation and that they do not have to do it alone. It is clear they have the support of the business to be able to move forward
  • By creating a framework for coworkers, employees, and managers to work more closely, you are effectively improving and encouraging teamwork. Teams should work as a unit and seek help from one another, but let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to admit we can’t do something. PIPs open the door for employees to seek assistance from their peers.
  • PIPs can help HR identify issues inside the business that could lead to a chain reaction. Although businesses may have different departments and they may seem somewhat detached from one another, they should work as a unit. So, by identifying a certain issue with one employee it allows you to analyze what issues came before and what issues are being provoked because of it. Therefore opening the door to very successful problem-solving.
  • By effectively solving one issue in a department, you will be increasing employee morale, since every member of the team will be able to work together seamlessly, no job will be left behind and no employee will have to pick up more slack.

When should a PIP be sent?

A PIP should be sent when the employee is not meeting the business’s expectations.

These expectations can either be external or internal to the business.

Some of the reasons can include:

  • Employee’s underperformance

When an employee consistently fails to meet performance standards or fails to achieve key performance metrics related to their job responsibilities.

  • Poor quality of work

When the employee is producing low-quality work, this could be due to frequent errors, inaccuracies, cutting corners or incomplete work.

  • Low productivity

When an employee's productivity levels are below expectations, resulting in delays, missed deadlines, or incomplete work assignments. This issue could also affect other coworkers, or be affected by delays in previous steps of the funnel.

  • Lack of job knowledge or skills

When the employee shows to have a lack of understanding of the duties they should be performing, or lack the knowledge and skills with the business's tools and procedures.

  • Bad communication and teamwork skills

When the employee is showing problems related to communication skills, such as ineffective verbal or written communication, difficulty in expressing ideas clearly, or poor interpersonal communication with colleagues or clients, leading to inefficient teamwork.

  • Low attendance and Punctuality

Chronic absenteeism, tardiness, or excessive time away from work without valid reasons can also be grounds for initiating a PIP.

  • Failure to adhere to policies and procedures

If the employee violates company policies, procedures, or ethical standards, such as breaching confidentiality, misuse of company resources, or engaging in unethical behavior.

  • Customer service issues

Poor performance in roles that require interaction with customers, clients, or external stakeholders, including complaints about professionalism, responsiveness, or service quality can lead to a PIP.

Bear in mind that a PIP should not just be sent out at the drop of a hat, there must be an extensive analysis of the situation, to make sure that you’re addressing the actual issue, and that there is nothing more serious behind it.

When you shouldn’t send a PIP

A Performance Improvement Plan should be sent as an opening to alert of a situation or issue and actually make an improvement.

Although it is important to be clear about the consequences of not following through, it’s important to realize that this is not a disciplinary hearing (at least not at this point), so it should not be sent as a reprimand, but rather focus on what should be done to fix the issue.

A PIP is not a “termination warning” per se. If the employee is showing truly negative issues, in the workplace perhaps you should consider a different course of action.

Strategies to conduct a PIP

Now you know what a PIP is and when it should be considered, let’s see how to conduct it.

Source: VENNGAGE

Analyze and Research

Before jumping into the employee's underlying issues, make sure that the rest of the team is running smoothly, and everyone is sticking to their tasks. Make sure to also check in with managers and other supervisors to ensure that all the instructions have been given out efficiently. If not, the PIP could be seen as an attack.

Find out where the problems are coming from, how they are affecting the business, and what the short and long-term consequences are.

If there has been prior communication regarding the matter at hand, be sure to include them in your document.

Feel free to contact the employee before issuing the PIP to understand the scope of the issue, where it originated, or if there have been prior conversations.

In your PIP, list the specific issues that need be solved clearly and leave no room for error in interpretation.

Set goals

Do not reach for the stars right away.

Know your employees, where they are, and what steps they need to take to get to where you want them to be.

Follow the SMART goal approach:

Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Relevant
Time-bound

If you clearly mark a timeline with actionable and clear goals, your employees will know exactly how to reach your goals, without being paralyzed by fear or confusion.

If the goals are not clear, you could be stuck in a very frustrating back-and-forth that will not benefit either party in the situation.

Provide a toolkit

Don’t expect your employees to know exactly how to perform a task, if their underperformance is consistent, consider if the reason is they do not know how the task is performed in the company or they are unfamiliar with the techniques and procedures.

Providing resources is a surefire way to ensure that your employee feels your support and takes the criticism as it’s intended, positively.

Offer support along the entire process, whether this is in the shape of tangible resources or a support group with managers and coworkers

Communication should be 2-way, therefore in addition to including resources in your PIP, make sure to schedule regular meetings between the employee and their managers or other supervisors, to ensure that progress is flowing correctly.

Be clear on the consequences

Be clear on what will happen if the improvement does not happen and what will happen if it does.

Typically the consequences if a PIP is not successful will be:

  • Reassignment in the business: Perhaps the employee is not in a department where they can excel and offer the best of them.
  • Termination: If the issues are serious and are jeopardizing the business seriously, a lack of follow-through of the PIP could leave to the employee being fired.
  • Demotion or removal: If the employee was recently promoted to a position with higher responsibilities, but they were not ready for it, this is the time to prove if they can step up to the challenge or if they were more valuable in their prior position.

Don’t forget the final revision

After the deadline of the PIP has passed, schedule a final meeting with the employee regarding the issues underlined in the Performance Improvement Plans.

If the PIP has been successful, this is a great time to reassure the employee that their position in the business is safe and that this was in fact a positive procedure.

However, this will also be the perfect time to see if your employee has not followed through with what they were asked to do. If this is the case, this revision can serve as a final warning concerning a reassignment, termination, or demotion.

Mistakes to avoid

Dwell on the negatives: a constant threat of termination could paralyze your employee or make them be defensive and slow things down, leading to higher underperformance that could jeopardize the employee's position in the business, but also the business's reputation

What to do if you receive a PIP

If you’ve received a PIP from HR, don’t panic. This is not a disciplinary action. Your employer simply wants to let you know there is an issue and they want to provide you with the necessary assistance to correct the situation.

Here's what you should do if you receive a PIP:

  • Review the PIP Carefully

Take the time to thoroughly read and understand the contents of the PIP document. Pay attention to the specific performance areas that need improvement, the expectations outlined by your supervisor or manager, and the deadlines specified for each goal. If they are not clear, make sure you ask.

  • If you have any doubts, seek clarification

If you have any questions or concerns about the PIP, don't hesitate to seek clarification from your supervisor or HR representative. Request examples or additional information to help you better understand the expectations and criteria for success.

  • Accept Feedback Positively

Instead of being defensive, be open to receiving feedback on your performance, even if it's difficult to hear. Use this opportunity to gain insights into areas where you can improve and demonstrate a willingness to address any shortcomings.

  • Take Ownership of Your Development

We all make mistakes, so don’t throw the blame around, it’s best to take ownership of your professional development and actively engage in activities that will help you improve your performance.

Analyze yourself what has gone wrong and why. Once you’re aware, seek out opportunities for training, mentorship, or coaching to enhance your skills and knowledge.

  • Communicate Regularly

Maintain open and transparent communication with your supervisor throughout the duration of the PIP. Provide updates on your progress, discuss any challenges or obstacles you encounter, and seek feedback on your performance.

If at any given time you bump into a wall, communicate this issue with your supervisors or other coworkers, don’t be afraid to show you need a hand.

  • Demonstrate Improvement

Focus on making tangible improvements in your performance and behavior as outlined in the PIP. Document your progress, achievements, and any positive feedback you receive from colleagues or clients to demonstrate your commitment to success.

After all, a Performance Improvement Plan is an opportunity for you to show proper and tangible improvement. Don’t procrastinate on meeting your goals.

Key Takeaways

You want your team to run smoothly and seamlessly.

If this is not the case at the moment, before considering letting your employees go and hiring new ones and being stuck in a constant turnover situation, consider issuing a Performance Improvement Plan.

Make your employees see that you do want to keep them in your team and that you will assist them in the process of improving and being the perfect fit for your team.

And most importantly, if you have received a PIP, stay calm, positive, and motivated. You now know what needs work, and you can address and solve your issues moving forward.

Christina Miranda
Content creator and translator @ lempire
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