Employee Performance Improvement Plan: 7 Tips to Make it Work


Ray Slater BerryContent Lead at Outreach Humans

Friday, April 23, 2021

A performance improvement plan sounds great in theory, but how can you make sure it's effective and successfully engage your employee in the process?

Article 8 Minutes
Employee Performance Improvement Plan: 7 Tips to Make it Work
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When managing a team, no one wants to find themselves in a situation where one or many of their employees are underperforming or not reaching their true potential. Nevertheless, this is just one of many difficult situations that HR professionals have to deal with.

When faced with a scenario like this, a commonplace, action-oriented solution is the implementation of an employee performance improvement plan (also known as a PIP). While the term is pretty self-explanatory, it’s a strategy that sets out a path for an employee to get back on track. It outlines what their performance issues are, how they can be addressed and what objectives they should be working towards in the future.

While this sounds great in theory, it can be difficult to put into practice. At the end of the day no one wants to hear that their workplace performance needs improvement.

In order to help ensure that your next employee performance improvement plan is a successful one, here are seven top tips on getting the best out of it. Keep these insights in mind and you’ll be sure to get your employee performing well and back on track (without any morale lost) in no time.

1. Make yourself clear

First things first, when putting an employee performance improvement plan into action, it’s important that you make yourself clear and don’t leave any room for confusion or miscommunication. Right off the bat, you need to address the issues in your employee’s performance and why you feel that implementing a performance improvement plan is the right move.

Even though you’ll want to approach your conversation with your employee kindly and gently, you’ll need to properly communicate the situation and your expectations if you want them to take it seriously.

If you’re putting your employee on a performance improvement plan, there’s a reason you’re doing so rather than letting them go. Make sure you explain your rationale behind that decision, as well as what action will be taken if certain criteria aren’t met within a certain period of time.

An employee that wants to continue working with you and performing well in the company will take what you say to heart and do everything in their power to fulfill the different aspects of your performance improvement plan.

2. Be a good listener

If you truly want your employee to improve and ensure that your performance improvement plan will be successful for both parties, it’s important that you listen well. Great performance management shouldn’t be one sided, after all - it should be a two-way conversation with honesty, transparency and give-and-take on both sides.

When meeting with your employee and working your way through the different points of your plan, be sure to give them the opportunity to respond and give their thoughts. If they don’t respond candidly, make a point of asking them their perspective throughout the meeting. This will help them feel engaged and like they’re an active (rather than passive) participant in the plan itself.

Even though your employee is having performance issues, it’s likely that they’ll want to improve their situation. If they feel misunderstood or like they don’t have a seat at the table when it comes to their professional future, they may lose enthusiasm, motivation and hope for finding a sustainable solution. Avoid this situation by taking what they have to say into account.

3. Identify the root causes behind problems

If your employee is having performance issues, there’s most likely a root cause behind them. This is especially the case if these are new issues that have suddenly popped up and haven’t been seen before.

In order to best address the issues you have at hand, it’s important to make the effort to identify exactly why they’re happening. A surface solution simply won’t be effective or sustainable in the long term.

Have an honest conversation with your employee and ask them their view on why they’re underperforming at work. They might surprise you by coming right out and explaining the situation, providing a great deal of clarity. If this isn’t the case, here are some possibilities that could be driving performance issues in the workplace:

  • Personal issues either in the workplace or at home
  • Feeling stagnant, disinterested or uninspired by their current position
  • A desire for a more challenging role or a position with more seniority
  • A desire to change positions, departments or even career paths
  • Concerns over their security or future at the company
  • A lack of familiarity with new systems, procedures or technologies

4. Set goals together

Now that you’ve gained a little bit more perspective on the context behind your employee’s underperformance and heard their side of the story, it’s time to move forward.

One of the most important parts of a great employee performance improvement plan is establishing solid goals and objectives. However, these goals shouldn’t be set in a vacuum. You’ll best set up your employee for success if you do this collaboratively.

A great way to go about this is to ask your employee what they think their improved performance goals should be. You might already have goals in mind that you want them to work towards, but it’s important to get their perspective as well. You might be surprised at the alignment between both of your goals.

Once you’ve listened to your employee’s suggested goals, you can have an open conversation and establish your final objectives together. This shows that you truly care about your employee’s professional development and are willing to meet them halfway when it comes to improving their performance.

5. Look on the bright side

When it comes to employee performance improvement plans, the name of the game is just that - improvement. Of course, if there are things that your employee needs to improve on, the conversation won’t always be positive. However, in order to keep your employee’s morale high, it’s important to look on the bright side and keep an affirming, enthusiastic attitude.

Without any unnecessary sugarcoating, focus on what your employee brings to your company and why improving certain aspects of their performance would be beneficial for all parties involved. This is key in getting them on board with your performance improvement plan.

Additionally, even if you’re frustrated or annoyed by your employee’s underperformance, it’s important to act as a supportive figure. Do this by keeping your door open for anything they might need and showing them you genuinely care about their professional education and development. Avoid being cold or unnecessarily harsh, as it likely won’t help your situation in the long run.

6. Touch base and communicate regularly

Employee performance improvement plans are usually executed over a specific timeframe: often 30, 60 or 90 days depending on the performance issue at hand. Because they can be carried out over weeks or even months, it’s key to prioritize touching base and communicating regularly throughout the process.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and improved employee performance certainly shouldn’t be either. Don’t expect to have one conversation with your employee and have them continue with the rest of the improvement plan themselves. Touching base and communicating regularly will provide your employee with the structure, direction and support they need.

If you want to give your employee the best chance of success, it’s important that you act as a guide to them throughout the entire improvement plan timeframe. This will look a little bit different to everyone, but make sure your employee knows that you’ll be checking up on them. You can schedule bi-weekly meetings to touch base, ask them to report back to you regularly with their progress or simply exchange emails and messages throughout the process.

7. Offer resources and support

Last but not least, offering an employee on a performance improvement plan as many useful additional resources and sources of support as possible is a great recipe for success. Not everything has to come from a manager or human resources staff member. There are lots of tools you can pass onto your employee that will help them succeed and get their professional performance up to speed in no time.

If there’s a specific skill or competency that you feel your employee is lacking, suggest they take a formal or online course. You can also provide them with any internal documentation your company might have on the subject. If your employee needs general guidance or improvement on soft skills, consider assigning them a mentor for a bit of job shadowing.

There are a wide variety of resources out there on just about any topic you can dream up, so make sure you take advantage of them to get the best out of your employees.

Make employee performance improvement plans work for you

All in all, putting an employee performance improvement plan into action can be difficult. You’ll have to deal with some tricky situations, make some hard decisions and have frank discussions with your employees. Nevertheless, once you get them going and eventually back on track to ideal professional performance, you’ll be glad you did it.

Be sure to keep these tips in mind the next time you find yourself facing professional underperformance on your team, and you’ll find that you help guide your employees back where they should be in no time.

Done correctly, your employees will be happy they went through the performance improvement plan when they did as well.

Ray Slater Berry

Ray Slater Berry is the content lead at Outreach Humans. He has been working in social media, content marketing, and SEO for nine years. He specializes in the tech, innovation, design, and product sectors. He is also a published psychological thriller author with his first novel, Golden Boy.


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