Performance Improvement Plans

A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), also known as a Performance Action Plan, is a great way to give struggling employees the opportunity to succeed while still holding them accountable for past performance. It is not always clear why an employee has poor performance. Did he or she not receive appropriate training? Does he or she not understand the expectations of the job? Are there unforeseen roadblocks in the way? Until you really allow for open dialogue and consistent feedback, you may not have provided an employee the opportunity to be successful.

Step 1: Getting started

The first step in the Performance Improvement Plan process is for the supervisor to document the employee's performance areas that need improvement. In documenting the main performance issues, be objective and specific. Provide facts and examples to further clarify the severity or pattern of performance concerns.

Step 2: Develop an action plan

Next, the supervisor should establish an action plan for improvement. This action plan should include Specific and Measurable objectives that are Accurate, Relevant and Time-bound (otherwise known as SMART goals).
Consider if the employee may need any additional resources, time, training or coaching in order to meet these objectives. This action plan should help set performance expectations and should include a statement about the consequences for not meeting these objectives.

Step 3: Review performance improvement plan

Prior to meeting with the employee, the supervisor should seek assistance from his or her manager or a human resource professional to review the PIP. This third party should ensure the documentation is stated clearly and without emotion. The third party can also review the suggested action plan to ensure it is specific, measurable, relevant and attainable within the PIP timeline. (PIP timelines are commonly 60 or 90 days in length.)

Step 4: Meet with the employee
During this meeting, the supervisor must clearly lay out the areas for improvement and plan of action. You may need to modify the action plan slightly after receiving the employee's input and feedback. Make any changes to the plan before the supervisor and employee sign the PIP form.

Step 5: Follow up

The employee and supervisor should establish regular follow-up meetings (weekly, bi-weekly or monthly). These meetings should discuss and document progress toward objectives. But ultimately, it is best when employees are provided the opportunity in follow-up meetings to ask questions and seek guidance or clarification on performance expectations. The supervisor should ensure any potential roadblocks are discussed and that the employee has been provided the necessary tools and training.

Step 6: PIP conclusion

If an employee is unable to improve, refuses to commit to the PIP or his or her performance actually gets worse, then the employer should close the PIP and terminate employment.
When the employee does show some improvement but is unable to achieve some or all of their action plan objectives within the PIP timeline, there are a few options.

If the employee is trying his or her hardest but just can't meet one or more objectives, the employer may agree to extend a PIP for a few more weeks or months.
If the employer determines in retrospect that the objectives were too hard or not completely within the employee's control, the employer may decide to either extend the PIP or end the PIP due to the progress that was observed.
If the employer determines the employee just isn't a good fit or isn't really trying to improve even after all this effort, then the employer should terminate employment.

When the employee has responded positively by meeting the objectives, the employer should formally close the PIP and allow the employee to continue employment. This should be a positive occasion for the employee, but be sure the employee understands that continued good performance is expected.

SESCO Management Consultants is available to assist with your human resource issues. You may contact us by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com .