Performance Improvement Plan: Everything You Need to Know

A Performance Improvement Plan, or PIP, is a plan to help a struggling employee improve by providing the necessary tools to help him or her succeed at the job. The PIP details a baseline of critical deliverables and behaviors that will result in success. A manager usually prepares this plan, and the manager and employee then sign it as an indication of their agreement on what constitutes success. Both agree on a timeframe, and at the end of it, the manager takes the deliverables and behaviors into account in order to announce success or failure. If an employee meets the deliverables, he's taken off the PIP. If an employee fails to meet deliverables or behavior, employment is usually terminated.

PIP isn't the same as the PDP, or Performance Development Planning. The processes differ in the amount of detail. If an employee is already taking part in a PDP process along with the entire company, the PIP should give the manager and employee a greater amount of clarity about certain expectations. People who are already effective in their jobs and meeting PDP expectations usually won't need to take part in a PIP.

To make sure that employees throughout the company are treated consistently and fairly, it's always recommended that the PIP is reviewed by Human Resources as well as the manager's supervisor. The manager monitors and gives feedback to the employee about how they're performing on the PIP. Further disciplinary action may be taken through the company's Progressive Discipline Process if a manager or supervisor deems it necessary.

What a Supervisor Considers for a PIP Document

A supervisor should consider these six points when preparing a PIP:

  • Be specific about the performance that needs to be improved, and give examples.
  • Make the performance expectations clear, including that they must be consistently performed.
  • Tell the employee which specific supporting resources you're providing.
  • Let the employee know how you'll provide feedback, including how often, specific meeting times, and who you will meet with; detail how you'll evaluate progress.
  • Communicate clearly the potential consequences an employee will face if they fail to meet these performance standards.
  • Give employees additional resources and information, including the Employee Handbook.

Sample PIP Form

A PIP form should have the following:

  • Employee name and title
  • Date
  • Employee department
  • Performance that needs to be improved, including skill development and required changes to meet goals
  • Expected results; include measurements if possible
  • Target date for performance improvement
  • Progress review dates by the manager and the employee
  • The actual progress reported at these review dates
  • Signatures from the manager or supervisor and employee

How to Master the PIP

You can take the following steps to master a PIP if you find yourself facing the process and having to put your signature on the document.

  1. Take responsibility for your previous behavior: Your manager may be looking at this as your last chance. Supervisors are often frustrated when things get to the point of placing an employee on a PIP. Making excuses, blaming other people, and being defensive won't help your case.
  2. Ask for time: Request a day to think about it. Your request may not be granted, but try and buy yourself additional time. The next morning, approach your manager with something like: "I was wrong and made a mistake. However, I like this company and my job. I want to move forward with the team. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to make this work." Show your sincerity when saying this, and give your supervisor the chance to hear you and see how sincere you are. Remember: The first step of many improvement programs is admitting there's a problem.
  3. Negotiate: Try to negotiate a longer time frame for your PIP. For example, if your PIP is scheduled for two weeks, ask if it can be extended to four weeks. If you're given two months to improve, request three. The more time you have to change, the better your chances are of showing that you can maintain these changes in the long term. If you only have one or two weeks to show improvement, it can be very difficult to show proven, long-lasting results in such a short time frame, so always try and negotiate for more time.
  4. Ask for specific examples: You need a PIP with measurable results, so ask for concrete examples of what success is. If a supervisor expects you to deliver a report, he needs to detail what will be included in the report. Simply saying that you should deliver a report on Company X's publishing numbers isn't specific enough.
  5. Communicate: As soon as your PIP is put into action, proactively communicate with your manager. Whether right or wrong, your manager has probably put a lot of effort into your job performance. You'll have to be a driving factor behind your success because many managers simply sign a PIP and put it out of their minds. You need to provide regular progress reports against deliverables so that your manager can see your efforts as well as your results. This could change your manager's mind about your job and performance.
  6. Leave the excuses behind. Your manager doesn't want to hear excuses if you're on a PIP.
  7. Show the team: Your team may also want to see how you're changing in terms of the quality and quantity of your work, your attitude, and your style of communication. If your team and your manager don't see changes, they may feel they're back at square one with you. Remember: Your manager isn't the only one looking for sincere changes. Show your team your changes, as well.
  8. Check in consistently: Communicate with your manager on a regular basis. Confirm that you're making progress, and ask for confirmation that you're on track.

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