It’s no secret that regular employee engagement improves performance. In fact, highly engaged employees are 87% less likely1https://blog.clearcompany.com/mind-blowing-statistics-performance-reviews-employee-engagement to leave their roles. That same study showed 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week. And what does engagement look like? Well, it could be in the form of regular one-on-one meetings or a written long-term strategy like a performance improvement plan, among other things.
While performance improvement plans have something of a bad rap in the business world, let’s look at the potential of what this tool could be if implemented well!
What’s A Performance Improvement Plan?
A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a structured process that outlines specific goals and actions to help employees enhance their performance and achieve desired outcomes.
The best thing about PIPs is they’re not just for underperforming employees! You can use them to provide feedback on good or great performers who could benefit from improving certain aspects of their jobs.
A well-designed PIP shouldn’t be punishment or disciplinary action. Managers can use a PIP to address performance issues that have been identified, such as:
- Poor attendance/attendance issues
- Ineffective communication skills
- Lack of knowledge related to some department/division/functionality.
Alternatively, it can be a valuable tool for focusing on specific areas of improvement to develop your career options and skills.
For the topic of time management, a PIP may address these areas:
Objective: To enhance time management skills and improve productivity to meet deadlines and achieve optimal work efficiency.
- Complete project tasks within assigned timelines, proactively plan and organize daily work schedules, and minimize time spent on non-essential activities.
Training and Development:
- Attend a time management workshop to learn effective prioritization techniques, utilize productivity apps or tools to optimize workflow, and participate in goal-setting training to improve task planning.
Coaching and Feedback:
- Attend weekly check-ins with your manager to discuss progress and identify areas for improvement, provide specific feedback on time allocation for tasks, and offer strategies for better prioritization.
Support and Resources:
- Employees will have access to [specific] project management software for task tracking and training on using it.
- Employees will track task completion rates and adherence to deadlines, analyze time spent on various activities to identify areas for improvement and utilize time-tracking tools to assess productivity.
Timeline and Milestones:
- Employees will reduce the average time spent on non-essential tasks by 20% within the first month, achieve a 90% on-time completion rate for projects within three months, and demonstrate consistent adherence to task deadlines.
A PIP doesn’t need to be complicated. The purpose is to have a plan that clearly sets expectations between the employee and their manager of what improvement looks like.
The Purpose and Benefits of PIPs
The purpose of a PIP is to give an employee feedback on what they need to improve on and how they can do that (i.e., training).
Creating a structured process allows employees to develop the skills or knowledge needed to succeed. It also gives them confidence in knowing where they stand with respect to expectations set out by management or others within their organization.
PIPs can help high-performing employees achieve their goals and reach new levels of success.
When done well, PIPs can effectively improve performance, reduce turnover, and keep your team happy.
PIPs are a parallel system to Professional Development Plans, which we’ll discuss in more detail later—stay tuned!
Ready to start planning your professional development?
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How to Introduce a PIP with Scripts
Starting the conversion with an employee can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! By presenting it as an opportunity to grow and improve, you can empower your employees rather than discourage them.
Let’s start with a bad example:
Manager: John, your performance has been disappointing. Your work quality is subpar, and clients have complained. You need to stop making mistakes and improve your productivity. If you don’t improve soon, we might reconsider your position.
Can you imagine being John? He walks into the room, and suddenly his job is on the line, but he isn’t told how to fix the problem!
Now let’s consider a better approach:
Manager: John, I appreciate your dedication. Let’s discuss your performance and create an improvement plan together. I’d like to understand your perspective and set realistic goals. I’ll provide guidance and training opportunities and connect you with colleagues who can help. How does that sound?
John: That sounds good. I’ve been feeling a little lost since I changed roles, and I definitely want to improve.
Manager: Great. Let’s schedule a meeting next week to discuss this further. In the meantime, jot down your goals and areas of focus, and we’ll use that as a starting place for a performance improvement plan.
In this example, the manager made a point of starting the conversation with a positive observation. Then, they invited the employee to engage in the process and scheduled a meeting, allowing time for everyone to prepare for a productive conversation.
Fundamentally, employees will respond better to suggestions when they have leaders who make them feel safe, as Simon Sinek describes in his excellent TED talk.
You can find more ideas in 21 Employee Engagement Strategies Every Manager Must Try.
How To Write a Performance Improvement Plan
Performance Improvement Plans can be created by an employee looking to improve or a manager wanting to help their direct reports. Either way, here are some ideas for writing your PIP.
1. Use a template
You can find them online or in books on performance management. Templates make getting started easier and ensure all important information is included in your plan.
|SKILLS/BEHAVIORS TO IMPROVE|
List the skills, behaviors, duties, or actions that need to improve.
|ACTION TO BE TAKEN|
What steps or actions need to be taken to ensure improvement?
What training, resources, or support are needed to improve?
|DATE TO BE COMPLETED||SUCCESS MEASURE|
What does improvement look like?
2. Make sure it’s easy to read
Use bullet points instead of long paragraphs—don’t overcomplicate things unnecessarily by trying too hard with fancy words!
Non-bullet Form Example
The employee will improve time management skills to meet project deadlines consistently by
attending time management workshops to learn techniques for prioritization and task organization.
She will enhance her communication abilities to ensure effective collaboration with team members through participation in communication training sessions to improve verbal and written communication skills
In addition, she will develop problem-solving skills to address challenges proactively By seeking mentorship from a senior team member to gain insights into effective problem-solving strategies.
Bullet Form Example
- Improve time management skills to meet project deadlines consistently.
- Practice communication skills to improve interactions with team members.
- Develop proactive problem-solving skills.
- Attend a time management workshop to learn techniques for prioritization and task organization.
- Participate in communication training sessions for new ideas of communication techniques.
- Meet with a senior team mentor to discuss effective problem-solving strategies.
3. Reflect on your (or their) strengths and weaknesses.
Start by evaluating your current skills, abilities, and areas for improvement. Consider the tasks or projects you excel at and those you find challenging. This reflection will help you identify areas to focus your improvement efforts.
4. Be clear about what needs improvement.
Be specific about the behaviors/actions that should change to avoid confusion and wasted time moving forward. For example, rather than saying “attendance,” clarify if that means excessive absenteeism, regularly showing up late, or not attending meetings.
5. Set specific goals.
Clearly define the objectives you want to achieve in your personal improvement plan. Ensure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART goals). Curious about what each category means? Check out SMART Goals: 5 Tips for Successful Goal Setting
For example, if you want to enhance your presentation skills, a SMART goal could be: “Deliver at least three well-prepared and engaging presentations to different audiences within the next three months.”
6. Consider what resources you need to succeed.
Make sure you have the resources necessary for achieving these goals (and then some). That may include support from peers and mentors, more time to focus on learning a new skill, or an app like Monday.com or Asana.com that helps you track your efficiency at completing tasks.
7. Commit to continuous learning.
Commit yourself to continuous learning by expanding your knowledge and skills in your field. Attend relevant workshops, conferences, or seminars, or take online courses to stay updated with industry trends. Set aside time for self-study or reading professional books and articles.
Try This: Create a learning calendar where you schedule specific times for learning activities, such as attending webinars or reading industry-related materials.
8. Include a way to monitor progress and adapt.
Make sure to decide on ways to regularly assess your progress towards your goals and make adjustments as needed. Track your achievements and challenges, and modify your plan accordingly. Combining quantitative and qualitative assessment methods provides a comprehensive understanding of your progress.
For example, you might use key performance indicators and data analysis for quantitative evaluation, and self-assessment along with managerial feedback for qualitative in order to get a holistic view of what has changed.
Try This: Use a journal or a task-tracking app to record your progress, challenges, and any adjustments to your personal improvement plan.
9. Specify a time frame.
Define a timeline for achieving those objectives with reasonable limits. Forming a new habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days, depending on the environment and frequency of exposure.
Specific timelines include either dates or a period of time, for example:
- Complete the time management workshop by [Date].
- Attend communication training sessions within the next three months.
- Engage in bi-weekly mentorship sessions with a senior team member starting [Date].
10. Seek feedback
Actively seek feedback from your peers, supervisors, or mentors to gain insights into your performance. Ask for constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. This feedback will help you identify blind spots and areas that need development.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Are there any growth opportunities or added responsibilities I should consider?
- What tips do you have for improving my communication skills?
- How can I enhance my strengths?
- Where can I improve personally?
- Any suggestions for better managing my time?
- Can you point me to any resources that can help me achieve my goals?
Ideas for Creative Solutions to Improve Performance
As you think about ways to improve your performance, consider solutions beyond simply improving time management or increasing sales.
- Job-crafting: If your role isn’t the right fit, consider redesigning it to align with your strengths and interests. You can seek additional responsibilities, collaborate with different teams, or explore new projects that tap into your passions and skills.
- Reverse mentoring: Studies show that teaching a skill to others can result in the protégé effect2https://effectiviology.com/protege-effect-learn-by-teaching/, where a person actually learns more by teaching. Try meeting with a junior employee or someone from a different department to exchange knowledge and perspectives. You can gain fresh insights, learn new approaches, and foster a culture of continuous learning within the organization.
- Microlearning Moments: Dedicate short, focused bursts of time to learn and practice specific skills or knowledge. This could involve watching TED Talks, completing mini-courses, or engaging in quick hands-on activities that align with your improvement goals.
- Implement Mindfulness Practices: Incorporate mindfulness practices3https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S027273581100081X into your improvement plans, such as meditation or journaling. Take short breaks throughout the day, which can enhance focus, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. Employers with meditation programs saw an 85% decrease in absenteeism4https://comparecamp.com/meditation-statistics/#:~:text=Various%20studies%20have%20shown%20that%20mindfulness%20improves%20focus%20and%20productivity.&text=Meditation%20increases%20employee%20productivity%20by,experienced%20a%20520%25%20profit%20increase.
Focus On Performance, Not Personality.
As a manager, it’s crucial to focus on the employee’s actual performance rather than their personality traits or personal characteristics. Centering the discussion on measurable outcomes and observable behaviors helps both the employee and the manager engage in a constructive and fair evaluation process.
Start by making sure you’re on the same page about the employee’s specific performance expectations and desired outcomes. Be specific and measurable when outlining the targets and objectives they need to achieve.
For example, instead of discussing a personality trait like “being more organized,” define the measurable goal of “consistently meeting project deadlines and submitting error-free reports.”
Rely on objective data and evidence when assessing the employee’s performance. Use quantitative measures, like key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics.
For instance, if the employee’s role involves sales, analyze data such as revenue generated, conversion rates, or customer satisfaction scores. This approach provides a fair and transparent evaluation based on facts rather than subjective perceptions.
Establish a schedule for regular check-ins and feedback sessions to talk about the employee’s progress and provide ongoing guidance. These sessions should revolve around the specific performance goals outlined in the PIP.
For example, if the employee is working on enhancing their presentation skills, provide feedback on their use of visual aids, body language, or audience engagement techniques.
Action Tip: When preparing to provide feedback, try using the SBI (Situation-Behavior-Impact) model to focus on actionable performance rather than personality traits.
For example, when discussing presentation skills with an employee, you might say:
“Remember last week’s team meeting, when we presented the quarterly report to our clients…” (Situation)
“I noticed that you mainly used slides with lots of text and read directly from them. There weren’t many visuals or engaging elements.” (Behavior)
“Well, the clients seemed a bit bored and not really tuned in. We missed a chance to really grab their attention and make an impact with the important insights we wanted to share.” (Impact)
Provide Constructive Feedback To Help With Improvement
As a leader, your goal should be to help your employees understand what they are doing wrong and how to improve. The PIP is one way of doing that, but how you present those suggestions can affect the efficiency of the improvement process.
Give constructive feedback in a positive way
Don’t just tell them what they did wrong—give them specific examples of where they could improve and praise them when appropriate (e.g., “You did great on this project because…”).
Use specific examples
Rather than saying, “You don’t listen” or “You aren’t very friendly,” try using an example from work or life that illustrates your point about why their behavior is not effective (and then offer suggestions for how to do it differently).
“During yesterday’s team meeting, I noticed you kept cutting off others while we were discussing the project timeline. It made it harder for everyone to contribute.”
“Do you remember our discussion last week about active listening? I think that would be a great area for you to focus on in the next few days.”
“Next time we talk, let’s discuss what you notice about how active listening affects the team’s collaboration.”
Focus on the future
Research5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7304587/ shows that the strongest predictor of feedback effectiveness is the recipient’s perception that the feedback conversation focused on plans for the future rather than analysis of the past.
So focusing on the employee’s future success and how to get there is an important key to successful performance feedback.
How To Respond To A Performance Improvement Plan
If you are an employee who has been provided with a PIP, take it as a good sign. Your company believes in you enough to offer you opportunities to improve. If there have been areas of concern in the past, this is your chance to show your willingness to change.
If you’ve been presented with a PIP, here is how to move forward:
Understand the Expectations: Carefully review the PIP document to understand the specific goals and expectations. If you need clarification, ask questions to clarify what you’re being asked to do.
For example, if your PIP says “increase productivity,” you might ask some of these clarifying questions:
- What specific aspects of productivity should I focus on?
- How will my productivity be measured?
- Is there a target or benchmark for my productivity improvement?
- Are there any resources or support available to help me improve my productivity?
- What is the timeframe for me to achieve the productivity goal?
Action Tip: Request a meeting with your manager to discuss the PIP and seek clarification on the outlined expectations.
Embrace Ownership: Take ownership of your performance and show commitment to improvement. Express your willingness to work towards the outlined goals.
Communicate and Seek Feedback: Regularly communicate with your manager, schedule check-ins to discuss progress, and seek feedback. Address any challenges or concerns proactively.
Take the Initiative: Take proactive steps to enhance your performance. Seek relevant training or mentorship opportunities aligned with the areas of improvement mentioned in the PIP.
Action Tip: For each area in your PIP, write down one additional way you can improve in each area. Share your action plan with your manager for their input.
Document and Celebrate Progress: During my first few weeks at a new job, I started a document on my computer called “A Gentle Reminder,” where I put any encouraging email, kind comment, or positive experience from work. For years, I added to the document, and on particularly rough days, I returned to it to remind myself of my successes.
Consider starting your own record of positive experiences or kind comments.
Remember, the key is to demonstrate your commitment to growth and improvement throughout the PIP process. Open and proactive communication with your manager, taking ownership and seeking development opportunities, can help you effectively respond to the PIP and work towards achieving the outlined goals.
Use The Pip As An Opportunity To Develop New Skills
The PIP is not just about identifying the problem and coming up with a solution; it’s also an opportunity to help you improve your performance. When you share your PIP with your manager, you can tap into resources like mentoring and new opportunities that you might not have access to on your own.
Embrace the PIP as an opportunity to develop and enhance your skills, contributing to your professional growth.
Example: Let’s say you aspire to take on a leadership role, but your PIP highlights the need to improve your delegation skills. Consider this a valuable chance to develop your ability to delegate tasks effectively and empower your team members.
Set a goal to delegate a specific number of tasks within a defined timeframe, ensuring you provide clear instructions and necessary support. Seek feedback from your team to refine your delegation approach and continuously improve.
You can make significant strides in your professional journey by leveraging the PIP as an avenue for skill development. Connect the PIP goals with your desired skills, explore relevant learning opportunities, practice your newfound abilities, and continuously seek feedback to refine your approach. Embracing this growth mindset will position you for success and help you achieve your career aspirations.
Action Tip: Write down 2-3 skills you’d like your future self to have, and discuss with your manager what opportunities are available to build those skills.
Strategies For Measuring And Evaluating Pip Success
To evaluate the effectiveness of your PIP, you need to have clear goals in mind. You should be able to answer these questions:
- What are the performance standards that are being measured? (I will improve my productivity by using Asana to better track my projects.)
- How will I know if they’re being met? (I will deliver all projects on time or early for the next month.)
- Do I have a way to track progress over time (i.e., monthly or quarterly)? (I will track due dates in Asana and check my assignments daily.)
- Have I included plans for using quantitative and qualitative assessments like tracking projects or tasks completed and performance reviews or feedback from a manager? (I will meet with my manager weekly to review my current assignments and discuss any upcoming scheduling conflicts to avoid delays in delivery.)
If you don’t have an answer to these questions, your plan may be missing something important!
Common Challenges In The PIP Process (And How To Overcome Them)
We’ve gone over some great ideas and suggestions, but let’s spell out some common challenges and obstacles you may face in writing a PIP.
- Lack of Specificity: Avoid vague or generic language and clearly outline the areas for improvement, specific goals, and measurable expectations.
- Failure to Collaborate: Involve your employee or manager in the planning process, seek their input, and ensure their commitment to the improvement plan.
- Unrealistic Expectations: Set challenging yet achievable goals within a reasonable timeframe to maintain motivation and progress.
- Lack of Support: Provide or ask for the necessary resources, tools, and training to address the identified areas of improvement.
- Inadequate Follow-up and Monitoring: Consistently follow up with your employee or manager, provide feedback, and monitor progress to ensure accountability and growth.
What’s The Difference Between a Performance Improvement Plan and a Professional Development Plan?
While a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) concentrates on remedying immediate performance issues, a Professional Development Plan (PDP) emphasizes the long-term development and advancement of an employee’s skills and career.
A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a short-term plan to improve employee performance that’s usually used when an employee’s performance is unsatisfactory.
It outlines the areas of improvement, sets clear goals, and establishes a timeline for achieving them. The primary objective of a PIP is to identify performance gaps, provide corrective action, and monitor progress closely. The emphasis is on addressing immediate performance concerns and ensuring the employee meets the required standards.
On the other hand, a professional development plan (PDP) is a long-term strategy for employees who have demonstrated satisfactory performance but need additional skills or knowledge to advance within the organization.
A PDP includes setting goals for professional development, identifying learning opportunities such as training programs or certifications, and creating a roadmap for acquiring new skills and knowledge. It is a proactive approach to nurture talent, enhance competencies, and support career progression.
A PIP often includes a specific action plan with clear goals and deadlines for achieving those goals. In contrast, a PDP could include various activities such as training, seminars, mentoring, and more. You can find more goal ideas at 25 Professional Development Goals You Must Set Right Now.
Both plans play vital roles in maximizing employee potential and achieving organizational objectives.
Ready to dive deeper into a Professional Development plan? Check out Professional Development Plan: What It Is and Why You Need One
Performance Improvement Plan Takeaways
Let’s review all we’ve learned about Performance Improvement Plans and how we can leverage them to be a valuable tool in personal and career development.
- A PIP is a structured process that helps employees enhance their performance and achieve desired outcomes. They are not just for underperforming employees; they can also be used to support high-performers in specific areas of improvement.
- The purpose of a PIP is to provide feedback, set goals, and offer guidance and training opportunities to help employees develop their skills and succeed in their roles. PIPs should be approached as opportunities for growth and improvement rather than punishments or disciplinary actions.
- When writing a PIP, use templates for guidance, make it easy to read, reflect on strengths and weaknesses, be clear about areas that need improvement, set specific goals, identify necessary resources, commit to continuous learning, monitor progress, and seek feedback. Explore creative solutions to improve performance, like job crafting, reverse mentoring, microlearning moments, and mindfulness practices.
- As a manager, focus on performance, not personality, by defining specific expectations and using objective data to assess progress. Provide constructive feedback by giving specific examples and offering suggestions for improvement.
- As an employee, respond to a PIP by understanding the expectations, embracing ownership, communicating and seeking feedback, taking the initiative, documenting progress, and celebrating successes.
- Measure and evaluate PIP success by having clear goals, tracking progress over time, and using quantitative and qualitative assessments.
- Common challenges in the PIP process include lack of specificity, failure to collaborate, unrealistic expectations, lack of support, and inadequate follow-up and monitoring. Thoughtful planning and collaboration between the employee and manager can overcome these challenges.
Remember, PIPs can be positive and supportive tools for growth. By approaching them with the right mindset and implementing the strategies outlined in this article, employees and managers can foster a culture of continuous improvement and achieve success in the workplace.
Looking for other ideas for self-improvement? Check out The 16 Best Personal Development Blogs to Read in 2023.
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