Performance Improvement Plan

Learn what a performance improvement plan is and how to write one yourself with helpful examples and a prepared template.

performance improvement plan icon

After an employee receives a poor performance review, management can give him a final chance to step up his game through a performance improvement plan (PIP or sometimes also called a performance action plan).

A performance improvement plan provides the employee with clear objectives to meet to avoid dismissal, demotion, or transfer.


What is a performance improvement plan?

A performance improvement plan is a document that lists where an employee is falling short and what he can do to improve.

For instance, the performance action plan may detail skills or training the employee lacks. Alternatively, it could specify how the employee needs to change his behavior. In either case, the PIP will clearly state the steps the employee needs to take to make the necessary improvements.

An employee performance improvement plan is written by the worker’s manager and submitted to HR. It has a deadline for meeting the named objectives — usually 30, 60, or 90 days. It also states the consequences should the employee’s performance continue to fall short.

In other words, there is no clear cut answer to “What is a performance improvement plan?” Rather, a PIP is flexible enough to suit any issue. It can also be any length — all this depends on the number of objectives the employee needs to meet to perform to the desired standard.

The purpose and benefits of a performance improvement plan

Why do employers use performance improvements plans to resolve issues leading to poor performance when they could simply fire the employee? There are actually several benefits to using PIPs.

1. Better company culture

Using PIPs promotes a sense of accountability. Employees know that they must meet expectations or face disciplinary action.

This contributes to positive work culture. Hard-working employees feel appreciated, as they know that everyone must pull their weight.

Employees who are struggling know that managers will support them if they fall behind, by providing them with actionable objectives. Everyone better understands what is expected of them.

Bear in mind that you can use performance improvement plans for more than just problematic employees. A performance improvement plan is also appropriate for workers who want to move up in the company (but are unsure how to do so) as well as for employees who would be a better fit for a different position — i.e. they would like to move laterally.

In other words, PIPs help workers feel valued in the company, as they know their employer will support them to reach their long-term career goals. At the same time, performance action plans allow companies to improve their workforce with better-motivated employees.

2. Save time and money

Every employer wants to minimize staff turnover, as this saves time and money.

Helping current employees improve their performance eliminates the expenses associated with firing workers and searching for applicants to fill positions.

It also prevents the need to hold interviews and schedule training for new hires. Although the employee receiving a PIP may need training, it will still be less training than what a new worker would require.

3. More effective than reviews

Reviews rarely have consequences. Plus, some people react poorly to criticism, even when it is constructive feedback.

To make matters worse, most people believe that feedback is inaccurate. These factors combined mean that employees often dismiss reviews and continue performing exactly the same as before.

In contrast, PIPs provide employees with a clear idea of where they are failing and what they need to do to improve.

When framed the right “why”, performance improvement plans can even encourage employees to try harder.

Performance improvement plan examples

After your initial conversation with the employee, his manager should draw up a draft performance improvement plan and send it to HR for review.

Here are a few performance plan examples you can use for your own PIPs.

#1 Example to improve customer service

Our first sample performance improvement plan is for customer service.

This kind of performance improvement plan could be necessary if clients are complaining about the attitude or support they receive from a particular employee.

Goal: The overall goal of such a PIP may be to improve interactions with clients.

Objectives: Possible objectives to meet such a goal could be to see better customer retention or engagement.

Action: To achieve the above objectives, the employee could work more closely with customers to resolve problems or attend a customer service training session.

Metrics: The most appropriate metrics would likely be the customer churn rate or customer satisfaction score.

#2 Example to improve the low-quality of work

In other situations, an employee may have little or no contact with customers, but he could still be delivering poor-quality work in other ways.

Goal: Improve the quality of work.

Objectives: Meet deadlines or produce work that is free from errors.

Action: The first objective is simple — the employees need to miss no deadlines within the timeframe set out in the PIP. The second objective requires collaboration with a senior team member to check for errors and judge whether the quality is acceptable.

Metrics: Number of late deadlines and quality of work (the latter may be subjective).

#3 Example for productivity

This next example is most suited to someone in a middle management position.

Let’s say that the employee is in charge of growing a program by increasing the number of subscribers. After several months, there is minimal (if any) change.

Goal: Grow program by X amount of subscribers.

Objectives: Increase the number of clients subscribed to the program and decrease the number of unsubscribes.

Action: Improve campaigns, better advertise (or increase) the benefits of the program, and implement a retention strategy.

Metrics: Subscriptions and unsubscribes.

#4 Example for unprofessional behavior

The last of our performance improvement plan samples is for unprofessional behavior.

This type of PIP could be necessary for a variety of situations, ranging from mistreatment of subordinates or coworkers to persistent lateness and unauthorized absences.

Goal: Cease behavior entirely.

Objectives: Arrive on time, treat others with respect, or attend all required meetings.

Action: Only miss work when authorized for personal or medical reasons. Receive appropriate workplace behavior training.

Metrics: Some behaviors are easily measurable (for instance, did the employee arrive no more than 5 minutes late every day?) Other situations are more subjective. For example, you may need to talk to subordinates who were finding it difficult to work with the employee.

Performance improvement plan template

You can create your own performance improvement plan by using our 5 step guide, also we recommend to check an existing and relevant template online to save you time.

How to write a performance improvement plan

Now you know what your PIP needs to include and you’ve seen some examples. All that’s left is to put everything together and start writing a performance improvement plan for a specific employee and issue.

To help you, here’s a step-by-step guide detailing how to write a performance improvement plan.

1. Determine acceptable performance

State what would be acceptable performance and compare this to what you are currently seeing from your employee. Be specific as to where exactly the employee is falling short, including examples of behavior and performance.

Tip: Collaborate

Instead of presenting an employee with a PIP unexpectedly, have a meeting beforehand where you discuss performance issues.

All parties (the manager, HR, and the employee) should have the chance to provide input. You want the employee to feel engaged and committed to meeting targets.

2. Create measurable objectives

Use the SMART framework to define the objectives your employee needs to meet. Determine how you will measure success.

Tip: Determine the Reason for Performance Issues

You need to be sure that a PIP is worth the effort. Find out what is causing the poor performance.

It could be that the employee feels overwhelmed by expectations at work or perhaps he is dealing with personal problems you are unaware of. Alternatively, the problem may be that the employee has no interest in staying with your company in the long term.

3. Define what support the employee will receive

List how the employee’s manager will help him reach the PIP goal. This could include training, coaching, or using additional resources.

Tip: Think of Ways You Can Best Help the Employee

The whole point of a PIP is to help the employee improve to keep him on your team. Rather than expecting him to achieve the objectives alone, consider what he may be lacking from you that could better his performance.

4. Draw up a schedule for check-Ins

Specify how often you will meet with the employee to provide feedback. Create a calendar of check-ins.

Tip: Don’t Wait Until the Deadline

It’s no use creating a PIP and then waiting until the deadline to check the employee’s progress.

Regular check-ins will allow the employee to voice any doubts or difficulties. Plus, they will allow you to confirm that he is on the right track or if further action is necessary.

5. State the consequences of a lack of improvement

Make it clear what the consequences are if the employee fails to meet the improvement goal.

By this point, you should know why you want to use a PIP, how to create a performance plan for your unique situation, and what exactly to include. There is still one thing left: your employee needs to know how to respond and pass the PIP. Share the following advice with your employee to ensure that the process runs as smoothly as possible.

Tip: Focus on Improvement Rather Than Punishment

It is critical that your employee doesn’t perceive the PIP as a sign he will soon be fired.

Remember to talk about where he is excelling and make it clear that you want to see him improve. Set a goal the employee feels confident he can achieve and that will be beneficial to everyone.

How to respond to and survive a PIP

As an employee, you need to know how to get past a performance improvement plan and gain something positive from the experience.

How to respond to a performance improvement plan

Your manager should have set performance objectives that are reasonable and attainable.

Now it’s up to you to decide whether these targets are worthwhile.

  • If you are uninterested in staying at the company for much longer, you can save everyone time and stress by starting a search for a new job instead.
  • If you do decide that your job is worth keeping (which should be the case the majority of the time), try to see the PIP positively. Consider it useful feedback to help you learn and grow both within the company and in your career as a whole.

How to survive a performance improvement plan

The next step is to survive your performance improvement plan and come out as a better-qualified, more valuable worker. This involves:

1. Making your job a priority

Avoid staying out late on work nights, accept all the optional invitations to work events, and spend your time at work on job-related activities only.

2. Seeking help when you need it

A PIP is often an indication that your company believes you are worth having as an employee. Talk to your manager or HR if you are unclear about anything.

3. Being positive

Go to work every day with a great attitude. Don’t let small challenges get you down.

A PIP is a great strategy to retain an employee whose performance has been lacking recently but who does have the potential and motivation to remain a strong team player.

Whether you are the employer or the worker, you should never see a performance improvement plan as a superficial step before termination. Rather, it should be a useful tool to transform a struggling employee into a valuable asset for the company.