How to Create an Effective Performance Improvement Plan (+Free PIP Template)

Lauren Pope
Lauren Pope  |  March 15, 2019

The dreaded Performance Improvement Plan isn’t actually all that scary when you get down to it.

Performance Improvement Plans often get a bad rap or are mischaracterized as the ‘first step in firing someone’ but that’s not the case. Your job as a human resources professional is to help change the conversation around Personal Improvement Plans and empower employees who have been put on one to succeed.

What is a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)?

A Performance Improvement Plan, also known as a PIP, is method used by employers to assist an underperforming employee. It’s a structured approach that is an important part of any talent management strategy and usually includes formal documentation and processes. Employees are expected to meet the goals of the Performance Improvement Plan within a certain time frame.

If you’re creating a Performance Improvement Plan for the first time, chances are you’ll have a lot of questions. What's the right way to give negative feedback? How can you ensure you create a plan that allows the employee to improve?

This guide will give you an in-depth look at how to create a Performance Improvement Plan from scratch and even includes a free Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) template that you can use as a jumping off point.

Looking for specific information about creating a PIP? Use the links below to jump ahead:

What is HR’s role in creating a Performance Improvement Plan?

Your role as a human resources professional is crucial to the Performance Improvement Plan process. If this is your first time creating a Performance Improvement Plan, you will want to set clear guidelines with everyone involved in the process.

HR should act as the administrator of a Performance Improvement Plan. You will be responsible for creating and carrying out the process while acting as a liaison between the manager and the employee. This includes creating and maintaining all documentation.

If your company is large enough that you might be running more than one Performance Improvement Plan at a time, you may consider investing in a performance management software.

See the Highest-Rated Performance Management Software →

The most important role HR plays in implementing a PIP is acting as an unbiased third party. You are a resource for both the manager and the employee and should remain neutral during the process.

What should be included in a Performance Improvement Plan?

Now that you understand your role in the Performance Improvement Plan process, you might be wondering what you should include in a PIP. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and document as much as possible.

There are a few things that you should absolutely include regardless of what your process looks like.

  • Formalized documentation of the problematic behavior or performance issue
  • A detailed description of the expectations for the employee’s performance
  • A list of resources and strategies that will be made available to the employee to help improve their performance
  • A specific follow-up plan that includes timelines for success, milestones and metrics to measure employee success, and a schedule of follow-up meetings with the employee to review the progress of the plan
  • Clearly communicated consequences should the employee fail to meet the benchmarks within the allowed timeframe

All of these documents should be reviewed, dates, and signed by the manager, the employee, and yourself to ensure everyone is on the same page


It’s important to remember that your process and documentation may evolve and change as you complete more PIP’s. It’s crucial that you stay open and communicative with everyone involved as the process unfolds.

Ready to create your PIP? Use our FREE outline as your guide.

FREE TEMPLATE: Performance Improvement Plan Download Now →

How to create and implement a Performance Improvement Plan

Creating the documentation and paperwork for a Performance Improvement Plan is only half the battle – now you need to solidify the process itself. Carrying out a Performance Improvement Plan is a lengthy process and should be treated with care through each step.

1. Determine whether a Performance Improvement Plan is needed

The first step you should take is to collect all the facts of the situation and determine whether a PIP is the correct course of action. This will include meeting with the manager asking to put their employee on a Performance Improvement Plan.

A Performance Improvement Plan should only be used for an employee that yourself and the manager believe can improve if put on the plan. It's not a way for a frustrated manager to begin the process of firing an employee

You may find yourself dealing with a manager who believes an employee requires a PIP but you may disagree. Trust your instincts and be sure to give your reasoning for whether you will or will not recommend a Performance Improvement Plan.

Things to ask yourself before putting an employee on a PIP

  • Can this problem be solved without using a PIP?
  • Is there a cause for this problem that does not directly involve the employee?
  • Has something recently changed in this employee’s life that may be the cause of this underperformance?

Oftentimes, you’ll find that you can remedy a situation without a Performance Improvement Plan by taking the time to fully understand the situation.

do i need a performance improvement plan
 

A Performance Improvement Plan should be used to help an employee improve patterned behavior. It should not be used as a disciplinary tool or as a way to punish an employee for a one-off infraction.

2. Develop a specific plan designed to help the employee improve

Once you understand the situation and have decided to move forward with the PIP, you’ll want to sit down with the manager and create the plan. You’ll want to specifically outline which areas the employee should improve on and create realistic benchmarks for the employee to hit.

Tip: The length of a Performance Improvement Plan should be at least 30 days. Most experts recommend at least 60 days to allow an employee ample time to show improvement

You should focus on a few specific things that can be easily measured that the employee can improve on. This will prevent the employee from becoming overwhelmed with too many goals and it will make determining whether the employee was successful much easier.

You should never use the same Performance Improvement Plan twice – each plan should be specially designed for the needs of the employee and the situation. Be realistic in what you’re expecting from the employee. Remember, this plan should be designed to give the them every opportunity to succeed.

3. Review the plan with the manager and set expectations

Now that you have all the documentation prepared, you should bring the manager back in for one final meeting to review the Performance Improvement Plan. Review each section of the PIP and be specific with the manager on what their role in the process should be and what a successful completion of the Performance Improvement Plan will look like.

You should set clear expectations with the manager about how the process will unfold. If this is your first time implementing a PIP you should take extra care to thoroughly review the contents of the Performance Improvement Plan with the manager before involving the employee.

4. Meet with the employee and review the Performance Improvement Plan

Once you’ve completed the above steps you should be ready to meet with the employee. The meeting should include both the manager and the employee, as well as yourself. You’ll use this meeting to review their Performance Improvement Plan, review and sign all the documentation, and answer any questions they may have.

Tip: Both the employee and the manager should receive a copy of the signed Performance Improvement Plan for their own reference 

You should make it clear to the employee that this process is designed to help them succeed and reassure them that you are available to provide them with resources or answer any questions that may arise throughout the duration of the plan.

5. Monitor the progress of the Performance Improvement Plan

Just because the meeting is over doesn’t mean your work is finished. Don’t create a plan for the employee and then disappear. You should closely monitor the progress of the employee and regularly check-in to ensure they are receiving the support they need to succeed.

Tip: You should schedule a meeting to check-in with the employee every two weeks for the duration of the Performance Improvement Plan

You can conduct these meetings with the manager present or with the employee alone. Discuss which option is best for the situation with everyone involved and move forward from there.

6. Conclude and evaluate the outcome of the Performance Improvement Plan

Once the duration of the performance improvement plan has run its course, it’s time to evaluate its success. First, you should independently review the progress the employee has made and compare it to the expectations that were set in their PIP.

After you’ve done that, you should meet with the manager and review everything together. An employee doesn’t have to perfectly hit every benchmark to be considered successful. The manager may decide that the Performance Improvement Plan was successful even if all the expectations were not met.

Tip: You may consider offering an extension to an employee who showed significant improvement but fell a little short

After you’ve reviewed everything with the manager and decided how to move forward, you should bring the employee in and discuss the results with them as well. If they were successful then you should complete documentation acknowledging the successful completion of their Performance Improvement Plan. If they did not complete the PIP as required, you may consider taking additional action as outlined in the Performance Improvement Plan.

When processes improve, so does performance

It may seem daunting at first to create and implement new processes at your company but once you get the hang of things, you’ll be one step closer to creating an environment where employees thrive.

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Lauren Pope
Author

Lauren Pope

Lauren is a Senior Content Specialist at G2 with five years of content marketing experience. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and on the G2 Learning Hub. In her free time, Lauren enjoys listening to podcasts, watching true crime shows, and spending time in the Chicago karaoke scene.