Why is an effective performance improvement plan (PIP) crucial for a learning organization? Businesses that invest in performance management systems demonstrate 14% higher employee engagement and 24% workforce performance. Yes, that’s right! But a performance management system is only as effective as the plans you put in place. And this is where the importance of planning steps in — in the guise of a PIP. In this blog post, we’ll show you how to develop and implement an effective PIP to enable you to get the most out of your employees and improve overall performance.

performance improvement plan

What is a Performance Improvement Plan?

When an employee’s performance falls short of expectations, a PIP is created to outline the necessary steps for improvement. This written document may identify job-specific skill deficiencies or soft skills, including leadership and professionalism.

In some cases, a PIP may be used to help an employee advance to a new position. The supervisor prepares the document, including a deadline for meeting expectations and outlining consequences if the employee fails to meet the standards. HR is typically involved in reviewing and implementing the plan.

What Are the Upsides of Deploying a Performance Improvement Plan?

Performance Improvement Plan

A PIP can have multiple benefits for both the employer and the employee.

Fosters a Positive Organizational Culture

Firstly, it can promote a positive company culture by setting clear expectations and holding employees accountable for their performance. A PIP can reduce defensiveness and improve employee morale by focusing on constructive feedback rather than negative criticism.

Promotes a Feeling of Care and Support

A PIP can show employees that they are cared for and supported by their managers, who are willing to provide guidance and feedback to help them improve or advance in their careers. This can increase employee satisfaction and retention, saving time and resources compared to hiring and training new employees.

Saves Resources

Furthermore, a PIP can be a cost-effective way to retain employees with strong soft skills but needing help with specific work-related skills. Employers can avoid the costs associated with hiring and onboarding new employees by offering a chance for improvement.

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How to Design and Deploy a Performance Improvement Plan that Works: A Step-by-step Guide

Creating a performance improvement plan can be a simple process. Firstly, assess whether a PIP is appropriate for the employee and the business. If so, develop a plan and review it with the employee. Then, allow the employee a set period of time, typically between 30 to 120 days, depending on the role, to demonstrate improvement. Here are the steps to help you create an effective PIP:

Identifying Your Staff’s Problem Areas

Performance Improvement Plan

The first step in creating an effective performance improvement plan is identifying the problem. This involves assessing the employee’s current performance and pinpointing specific areas where improvement is needed.

To do this, gather and review performance data, such as job performance evaluations, customer feedback, and productivity metrics. This can help focus on areas where the employee falls short and identify specific skills that need improvement. For example, a sales representative may struggle to close deals, or a customer service representative may receive negative feedback on their communication skills.

Once the problem areas have been identified, set specific and measurable performance goals for the employee. These goals should be designed to address the identified deficiencies and should be realistic and achievable within the given timeframe.

For instance, a goal may be for the sales representative to increase their closing rate by 20% within the next 90 days or for the customer service representative to receive no negative feedback on their communication skills in the next 60 days.

Compelling stats show that setting specific and measurable performance goals can improve employee performance. According to a study, 43% of highly engaged employees receive regular feedback and goal-setting instructions.

Developing a Plan

Once you identify the problem areas and set specific performance goals, the next step in developing an effective performance improvement plan is to create a detailed, actionable framework. This plan should outline the employee’s steps to achieve the identified goals.

The action plan should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). It should also be detailed enough to guide the employee on what actions to take and how they will be evaluated.

A PIP template in a table can be an effective tool for creating an action plan. This tabular format should include the following columns:

  • Performance Goal: A clear description of the performance goal that the employee needs to achieve
  • Action Steps: Specific actions that the employee needs to take to achieve the performance goal
  • Resources Needed: Any resources that the employee will need to complete the action steps, such as training or equipment
  • Responsible Party: The person who will be responsible for overseeing each action step
  • Timeline: The deadline for completing each action step

Assigning responsibilities and timelines for completion is critical to the success of the PIP. This ensures the employee understands their role in the plan and knows their expectations. It also provides a clear completion timeline, which helps keep the employee focused and motivated.

Providing Support and Feedback

Performance Improvement Plan

After you develop the action plan, you must consider providing the necessary support and feedback. This is crucial to help employees achieve their performance goals. This involves offering your workforce the necessary resources and support to improve their skills and reach their objectives.

Support can take many forms, such as corporate online learning, access to tools and resources, or one-on-one coaching sessions. The type of support will depend on the specific areas for improvement identified in the PIP.

In addition to providing support, ongoing feedback is essential. This includes positive feedback when the employee progresses and constructive feedback when improvement is needed. It’s essential to communicate frequently and clearly with your workers, giving them the guidance and motivation they need to stay on track and improve their performance.

One effective method is to schedule regular check-ins and meetings to review progress, discuss any challenges, and adjust the PIP as needed. This can help ensure your staff gets the necessary support and feedback to achieve their goals.

Monitoring Progress

importance of planning

The next vital step is monitoring your employee’s progress towards achieving the performance expectations. Based on the progress, you may need to adjust the performance improvement plan to ensure that it remains relevant and achievable. If the employee is not making sufficient progress, you may need corrective action, such as providing additional training, changing the performance expectations, or initiating disciplinary action.

Communicating the PIP to Your Workforce

This involves communicating the performance expectations, the areas where the employee needs to improve, and the consequences of not meeting the expectations. The performance improvement plan should be communicated encouragingly to ensure the employee feels comfortable and motivated to improve.

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Best Practices for Creating an Effective Performance Improvement Plan

importance of planning

Creating a Supportive and Non-judgmental Environment

A supportive and non-judgmental environment is crucial for employees to feel comfortable sharing their challenges and seeking help. When an employee is not meeting expectations, it is vital to approach the situation with empathy, understanding, and encouragement. The following are some strategies for creating a supportive and non-judgmental environment:

  • Start with the positive: Before discussing areas for improvement, acknowledge the employee’s strengths and contributions to the organization. This can make your workers feel valued and motivated to improve their performance.
  • Listen actively: Actively listen to the employee’s concerns and provide feedback in a non-threatening manner. This can help the employee feel heard and understood and reduce defensiveness.
  • Offer resources: Provide support to help employees meet their goals, such as additional training or coaching. This can help staffers feel supported and motivated to improve.


Let’s assume you notice that an employee’s productivity has decreased recently. Instead of criticizing the employee, schedule a meeting to discuss the situation. Start the conversation by acknowledging the employee’s contributions to the organization and ask him/her for their thoughts on why productivity has decreased. Listen attentively, validate the employee’s concerns, and offer resources such as additional training and coaching to help him/her improve.

Ensuring the Plan Is Realistic and Achievable

learning organization

A performance improvement plan should be designed to help the employee improve their performance in a realistic and achievable manner. This means that the goals and expectations outlined in the PIP should be attainable, given the employee’s skills, abilities, and resources available. If the goals are too ambitious or unrealistic, the employee may become discouraged and disengaged from the process, leading to further underperformance.

To ensure that the performance improvement plan is realistic and achievable, breaking the goals into smaller, more manageable tasks or steps may be helpful. This can make the process feel less overwhelming and help the employee see tangible progress toward achieving the overall goals. Additionally, the PIP should include specific and measurable goals, with clear timelines and milestones, to track employee training progress easily.


For example, suppose an employee struggles with time management. In that case, the PIP may include reducing the time spent on non-essential tasks, improving the quality of work completed within a set timeframe, and prioritizing tasks based on importance and urgency. The performance improvement plan could break down these goals into smaller, more manageable steps, such as identifying time-wasting activities and finding ways to eliminate them, learning new time-management strategies through training or coaching, and regularly reviewing and adjusting priorities based on workload and deadlines.

Offering Adequate Learning Opportunities

To support an employee in their performance improvement plan, it’s crucial to provide them with the necessary training and resources to achieve their goals. This may involve identifying areas where the employee needs additional skills or knowledge and providing training or coaching to help them acquire those skills. It could also involve providing additional resources, such as tools, technology, or support staff, to help employees perform their jobs more effectively.

For example, if an employee struggles with using a new software program, the PIP could include training sessions, online tutorials, or one-on-one coaching to help the employee master the software. If the employee has difficulty meeting productivity goals, the PIP could include additional staffing support, such as hiring an administrative assistant or delegating tasks to other team members.

Encouraging Employee Participation and Feedback

performance management system

Encouraging employee participation and feedback is another important best practice for creating an effective performance improvement plan.

Involving employees in the PIP process can help increase their engagement and buy-in to the plan. They may have valuable insights into their own performance and may be able to identify areas where they need additional support or resources. By involving the employee in the development of the PIP, you can ensure that the goals and expectations are realistic, achievable, and tailored to the employee’s needs.

To encourage employee participation and feedback, schedule regular check-ins to review their progress, discuss any challenges or obstacles, and provide feedback and support. You can also ask the employee for their input and feedback on the PIP, such as requesting their thoughts on the goals and strategies outlined in the plan and encouraging them to share any concerns or suggestions.

Additionally, you can create an environment where employees feel comfortable providing feedback and asking for help when needed. This can include creating open lines of communication, providing regular opportunities for employee feedback, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Rounding It Up

The key takeaway is that performance improvement plans can be a valuable management tool, but only when used appropriately and in the right circumstances. Typically, businesses use PIPs to communicate to employees that they are not meeting job expectations and to provide a roadmap for improvement. From the employer’s perspective, a performance improvement plan can help retain valuable staff, while for employees, they offer a chance to identify and address skill and productivity gaps.

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