Key Tips for creating an Employee Performance Improvement Plan

Performance Improvement Convo

Placing an employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP) is not enjoyable and certainly not the most comfortable part of anyone’s job, but it’s critical for organizational performance and efficiency.  Nobody likes to tell people bad news.  The purpose of issuing a performance improvement plan is to provide details of existing performance concerns while outlining specific steps your employee needs to take to address performance deficiencies.

Before issuing a formal PIP, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have you set up the employee for success, especially if they are new to the organization and don’t yet have the tools and resources to perform their job or are still learning organizational culture and general workplace protocols?
  2. Is there any training that the employee should have received and/or were they insufficiently trained in any new change initiative that was recently launched?
  3. Are you aware of any personal situation or crisis that the employee might be going through that may have an impact?
  4. Has the employee asked for resources or support that you as the manager haven’t been able to provide them with?
  5. Have you given the employee feedback and opportunity to improve their behaviour or performance?
  6. Does the employee clearly understand that the next step in the performance discussion is for him/her to be placed on a PIP?

There are times when a PIP can be avoided and it’s important that you take that into consideration.  Ask yourself if the employee has mentioned any life change or situation they are dealing with or have been through that could significantly affect their performance.  Is this change temporary or do they need time or wellness support to help them during this difficult period?  Nobody is perfect and we are all human.  Living through all kinds of life challenges takes time so be patient with your employees as they adjust and manage their personal situations.  We sometimes jump to the negative conclusions only to find out that the employee is going through some sort of mental or emotional breakdown, and this is usually most evident when there is a drastic change in their performance or behaviour.  Be cognizant that this could be happening.  While it’s important to accommodate the employee as they go through a difficult time, it is often a tough conversation to have when you feel you have given a reasonable amount of time and there have been no improvements. 

It is essential that conversations are clear, and that the employee feels comfortable asking questions.  This also allows the employee to take accountability for identifying performance gaps and reaching out for help or additional training.  Be certain that the employee is committed to wanting to improve.  It is inefficient to spend the significant extra time and effort trying to help your employee succeed if they are not committed to their improvement and success in your organization.  If the employee is trying their best, it is noticeable and signifies they really care and want to improve. Keep notes of your conversations with employees as they occur including key points or questions raised on both sides as well as details on discussion timing and any follow-up actions agreed.  This will guide you as conversations unfold over time and may also be important for future historical reference.

Once you feel you have offered enough and gone out your way to help the employee but don’t see any improvement, it’s time to move to the formal written stage of the PIP.  If you are confident that you have had sufficient verbal discussions and the behaviour or performance has still not improved, the problem is serious enough to warrant a formal documented step.  The manager should consult with HR for direction and advice when issuing a PIP.  Delivery of a PIP should not come as a surprise to the employee if you have handled the situation correctly and have had sufficient prior discussions on improving performance, attitude, or behaviour.

Key Tips for Creating a PIP:

  • Make sure to refer to your notes and add detail about previous discussions including dates and previously agreed upon actions and timelines (which haven’t yet been met necessitating the PIP).
  • Be specific about the going forward expected level of performance or standards required, the impact of poor performance, and what areas the employee needs to improve upon.
  • Describe in detail the goal to be achieved and the specific action steps required to change behaviour or performance.
  • Provide helpful suggestions such as additional training courses, reference material they can refer to, or other people in the organization that they can job shadow or learn from.
  • Include timelines that are realistic and attainable.
  • Provide a copy of the job description as well as any other resource material or policies as a reminder of the expected standards.
  • Agree on follow up dates to check-in on progress which may vary from weekly to bi-weekly.
  • Describe the consequences of not meeting the objectives of the plan.  In most cases this could lead to a termination but in some cases, this could involve a demotion.  
  • Be sure to encourage the employee on positive changes.  As much as you want to provide guidance on performance improvement, it’s equally important to reinforce positive behaviour or performance.

When it’s clear the employee has made a strong effort but seems unequipped to perform at your expected level of performance, then you may just need to thank them for their effort and let them know that unfortunately it’s below the expectations required.  The employee may even decide they are uncomfortable signing the PIP and that’s okay.  You just need to make note on their signature line that they refused to sign and include the date.  Should this be the case, it important to record that the discussion happened and the PIP is valid even without employee signature.

It’s possible that the process works, and the employee improves.  This is a preferable outcome so keep an open mind to this outcome and don’t assume that termination or departure is a foregone conclusion. Your organization doesn’t want to spend time and money rehiring and retraining a new hire if this can be avoided.  When effort is being demonstrated and some momentum evident, you may find that the employee needs additional time to improve, and it may be worthwhile to provide this.  If so, have the conversation and adjust the PIP accordingly.  Termination should be the last resort but, if necessary, HR should be involved in confirming that having followed these steps, the correct communication has occurred, and opportunity and support for improvement has been provided minimizing the risk of any dismissal claims.

Contact Bridge Legal and HR Solutions for practical guidance on creating and delivering effective Performance Improvement Plans – (647) 794-5442 or at 

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