How to Develop a Performance Improvement Plan

by Lauren Girardin on March 16, 2017

The dreaded PIP. Though the acronym stands for Performance Improvement Plan, to many employees it might just as well mean “Panic-Inducing Punishment.”

The best employers know a PIP can place underperforming staff on a path to transform themselves into better employees. But, in practice, a PIP is too often a half-hearted attempt at giving somebody one last improbable chance to save their job. Sometimes, managers treat the PIP as little more than a mandatory step in the process of firing an employee.

Performance Improvement Plans have so much potential. How can a PIP revive a struggling employee’s job performance?

PIP as a tool to improve employee performance

A Performance Improvement Plan should give underperforming employees hope and help. It is a prime opportunity to let an employee know what’s gone wrong and what they can do about it.

A PIP is not a replacement for effective management and ongoing performance feedback. It cannot clarify job performance expectations never communicated, motivate employees to achieve goals never set, or compensate for essential resources and trainings never provided.

The PIP must be a specific plan that the employee can realistically achieve. It should explain what is unsatisfactory about their job performance, the actions they must take to meet expectations, a realistic time frame, and the consequences if they don’t improve their job performance.

How HR can improve the PIP process

At the beginning of the PIP process, HR should meet with the manager to learn as much as possible. Discuss the manager’s goal-setting process. Review the employee’s past performance evaluations. Find out if and how the manager provides ongoing performance feedback and support. And, gather details about conversations, actions, and documentation relevant to the employee’s performance. During this stage, HR might discover that the manager needs coaching as much as or more than the struggling employee.

Then, to support an objective employee evaluation, HR can collaborate with the manager to create a PIP based on facts, not feelings. HR can and perhaps should take part in presenting the PIP to the employee to facilitate a productive, positive discussion. During the meeting, HR can use empathy to encourage the employee to voice their ideas, needs, and concerns, which may be incorporated into the PIP.

HR must ensure that the process is fair, and that the employee fully understands what they need to do and the consequences. HR also must make sure the PIP process and documentation complies with the organization’s policies as well as the law.

The role of performance management software in the PIP process

Performance management software can make the PIP process more efficient, transparent, and perhaps even unnecessary.

When an organization uses software to track employee performance, the information is readily available and searchable in one place. It’s easier to gather a record of the employee’s successes and shortcomings, and the feedback they’ve already received.

Once the PIP is agreed to, the employee can use performance management software to record their progress toward completing the actions required in the PIP. The manager can share real-time feedback so the employee can act immediately to improve their performance, instead of learning too late what expectation they didn’t meet.

Software also makes it easier for managers and employees to share and record performance feedback on a regular basis, rather than only at the end of the year. This gives employees an opportunity to proactively and continually strive to meet and even exceed expectations. Organizations that use software for continuous employee feedback may realize they rarely need to resort to a PIP, since they give struggling employees the hope and help they need every day.New Call-to-action

Lauren Girardin

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.