1. Evaluate employee performance
A PIP should be part of an ongoing review process and dialogue between an employee and their manager. Before you consider implementing one, you should have already conducted a series of performance appraisals over time, discussed any issues with your report, and documented them in detail. There should be clear evidence the team member has been performing below expectations and received related feedback.
It’s essential to evaluate an employee’s performance and talk about the possible implications with them before you consider further action. A PIP should never appear suddenly or before multiple rounds of feedback have been exchanged.
“The greatest pitfall I've seen with performance improvement plans is when they’re a surprise. Managers don't always take the time to provide feedback and coaching on a consistent basis, or they get frustrated with the lack of change and want HR to jump to a PIP.
In these cases, I've rarely, if ever, seen an employee successfully complete a PIP and continue to succeed in the company. They’re typically incredibly demotivated.”
— Ayanna E. Jackson, Career & Leadership Consultant
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2. Identify the root causes of issues
The next step is uncovering the underlying reasons behind the employee’s lower-than-expected performance. Depending on the cause, you may angle their PIP in a different way. For instance, if a team member lacks motivation because they don’t consider their work meaningful or important, you might set them tasks that demonstrate how their role contributes to the bigger picture. On the other hand, if an employee displays unprofessional behavior toward clients, you might provide them with a series of communication training courses.
3. Determine clear goals for improvement
Setting specific aims is critical to the success of a PIP. This helps everyone involved in the process to understand what they need to accomplish and how you’ll measure progress. Ideally, you should set SMART goals, which are:
For example, a sales agent that is repeatedly not hitting their monthly target might be given the initial goal to reach 70% of the target, with a timeline to improve that percentage month-by-month. There’s no ambiguity about what success looks like in this instance, and having such clear aims will give the individual a sense of purpose and direction.
Team members may feel more positive about their PIP if you work on their goals collaboratively. That way, you’ll give them more ownership and accountability over the milestones they’re meant to reach and the plan overall. According to Gallup, one of the five conversations that drive performance is one in which managers and employees ”collaboratively set goals that stretch employees to achieve their best performance” and “collaboratively define what success looks like in the individual's role and connect that success to the employee's goals.”
4. Decide on training & support
To show staff that you’re invested in their development and want to give them the best chance of accomplishing their PIP, you have to play an active role in the process. That means offering team members whatever resources they need to achieve their goals. You might include a combination of the following:
- Training and development programs
- Coaching and mentorship
- Technology and equipment
- Review and feedback sessions
If your company has a pre-existing framework for training and development, you can refer to it when crafting a PIP. Imagine your employee needs to undergo sales training to help them close a higher percentage of deals. You should be able to look at your usual development strategy and see what training sales staff usually need to reach an optimal level of proficiency.
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Leapsome’s Competency Frameworks visualize all possible development pathways through your organization.
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5. Create an achievable timeline
One resource you should never overlook is time. Employees will likely still have many of their original job responsibilities to consider alongside their PIP-related tasks. Plus, no matter how well you handle the process, most people will experience some extra stress and anxiety when they know they’re having performance issues and need to improve.
That’s why it’s essential to account for timing in PIPs and either create extra room in the employee’s timetable or break the plan into manageable chunks. You should establish exactly what you expect to happen week by week and consider the employee’s other obligations.
Additionally, you should establish a formal deadline for the PIP so the team member has an idea of how long the process will take. They may be more motivated when there’s a clear end in sight. You also need to communicate who will decide on the next steps so there’s no confusion when the performance improvement plan comes to a close. If you have to extend the PIP or even introduce more disciplinary measures, you don’t want the employee to mistakenly believe they can negotiate.
Implementing a PIP
Once you’ve created a PIP with your employee, you need to check in with them regularly, monitor their progress, and exchange continuous feedback. There may also be unforeseen circumstances that require you to adjust the plan. For example, if the team member is absent with sickness for more than a couple of days, you may need to extend their PIP’s deadlines.
That’s why it’s best to arrange a series of regular meetings during the implementation stage. These can be opportunities to check whether the employee is on track and provide them with extra guidance. However, feedback doesn’t only have to take the form of constructive criticism — you should also celebrate their successes and cheer them on.
“[With PIPs, we always have] frequent feedback checkpoints. On a weekly basis, the manager and the report meet to exchange feedback. If needed, we also set up support check-ins with a people partner, so the employee feels they can talk to someone other than their manager… sometimes there can be tricky conflict situations, so it’s helpful to have another point of contact as well.”
— Milica Radojevic, Head of People at Blinkist
Following up on performance improvement plans
After the deadline for a PIP has passed, your next steps depend on the outcome:
- Meeting or surpassing the goals — If the employee achieved all the objectives you defined together, they can likely resume their normal responsibilities and you can discuss further development opportunities. However, you may want to monitor their performance for a period afterward to help sustain and expand on their improvements.
- Falling short of the aims — The employee may have made progress, but still not fulfilled all the aims that were outlined in the PIP. In this case, you may extend the improvement plan and continue to offer resources and support.
- Showing no or few signs of improvement — When the employee has made minimal progress or failed to meet the PIP’s aims, consider probation or even termination. Assuming you ruled out personal difficulties to begin with, this is a sign that this person’s priorities no longer align with your organization’s, and they may be happier elsewhere.
How to support employees
Since PIPs come into play as a result of less-than-optimal performance, it can be daunting for reports to learn their manager wants to put them on one. They may lose morale or worry about termination. However, the following advice can help people to make the best out of the experience:
- Help them maintain a positive attitude — Show employees you’re on the same side. If you’re putting them on a PIP, it means you see potential in them and want to help them improve. Explain that solving issues together will help them unlock their full potential and grow as a professional.
- Encourage them to seek support when needed — When employees discover they’re not performing as well as they’d hoped at work, it can cause low mood, stress, and anxiety. These are all natural responses, so let them know what resources are available and how to access them. Be sure team members know to talk to their manager or another leader if they feel demoralized or overwhelmed by any aspects of the PIP or need to consult mental health support.
- Show them how to use the experience to develop — It may be helpful for the employee to see their PIP as a step in their development toward future goals. Although they may not currently be where they’d ideally like to be, everyone faces setbacks, and they’re still progressing on their chosen career path.
The benefit of performance management software
Performance improvement plans shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you’re considering implementing one within your organization, ensure you have all the tools you need for a clear, fair, and transparent process.
Holistic performance management software like Leapsome can support your people before, during, and after a PIP. You can uncover signs of struggling employees quickly with our Goals and Reviews modules. Then, use our Meetings module to collaborate with employees on a plan that works for everyone. If you use our Competency Framework feature, you’ll have a basis for any development plans you create. Finally, you can use the Learning, Reviews, and Instant Feedback modules to guide employees and lead them on the path to success.
🚨 Address and resolve performance issues early on
Leapsome’s Instant Feedback, Reviews, and Meetings modules allow managers to maintain open communication with all their reports.
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