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Performance Reviews Performance Management

5 Performance Improvement Plan Steps to Increase Effectiveness

December 7, 2021
6 min read
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Performance Management, Supercharged


This article was originally published in April 2019. It was updated in December 2021 with new information and statistics about performance improvement plans for employees.

No matter how polished your hiring practices or effective your performance management program, sometimes, employees won’t meet expectations. Regardless of what’s causing an employee to miss deadlines and fall short of goals, you want to address why they are struggling and help them improve. In that case, you might choose to put employees who are having problems on a performance improvement plan.

What is a Performance Improvement Plan?

A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a tool used to address issues with employee performance. A performance improvement plan is meant to help employees resolve performance failures or deficiencies and be successful in their roles.

What is a Performance Improvement Plan?

A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a tool used to address issues with employee performance. A performance improvement plan is meant to help employees resolve performance failures or deficiencies and be successful in their roles.

According to SHRM, there are a few main outcomes from performance improvement plans:

  • The employee’s performance improves
  • Discovering a skill or training gap that can then be resolved
  • Other actions including role transfer, demotion, or termination

SHRM also notes that performance improvement plans should be a genuine “commitment to help the employee improve” rather than a precursor to termination. Consider these questions when determining whether an employee would benefit from a PIP or if it’s unlikely to make an impact:

  • What is the specific performance issue being addressed? Is the issue recent or a longtime problem? Has the employee’s manager attempted to address the issue to prevent a PIP?
  • Do you feel the manager truly wants to help the employee improve? Or does it seem like the plan is the first step toward terminating the employee?
  • Will a PIP be sufficient to address the performance issues that are occurring? Or are the performance concerns outside the scope of what a PIP can address?
  • Has the employee received all the training they need to be successful? 
  • Are events in the employee’s personal life affecting their performance? If a personal issue is affecting their performance, allow reasonable time for employees to adjust. Introduce a PIP if performance remains low for a sustained period.

Coaching Strategies for Performance Improvement

Professional coaching isn’t about dictating your wants to employees. It’s a collaborative effort that includes setting goals and sharing feedback. That collaborative approach can also be applied to the creation of a performance improvement plan and PIP process.

Working together and using the two main aspects of coaching, feedback, and goal-setting, your employee performance improvement plans won’t feel like discipline. They’ll feel like the true performance improvement tool they are. Employees will receive a concrete roadmap of performance initiatives that they want to achieve. The plan might also include developmental training for continued success in their role.

Anyone can be a coach, especially HR leaders. By applying an established performance improvement plan process, HR managers can use a coaching mentality to improve the performance of individual team members and help them achieve success in their roles.

@ClearCompany says you need to take a coaching approach to #performance improvement plans to help employees stay engaged and on track with their #PIP goals:

1. Gather, Analyze, and Interpret

Before developing a performance improvement plan, managers must first gather, analyze, and interpret the employee’s past performance data. These insights allow managers to uncover underlying performance gaps and hone in on individuals’ key strengths and weaknesses. Many performance issues include but aren’t limited to:

  • Poor time management or scheduling of work priorities
  • Lack of understanding of the job’s outcomes/expectations
  • Failure to meet goals
  • Hours worked or attendance issues
  • Lack of employee engagement

Once these issues have been identified, managers can create a detailed plan to improve poor performance. Utilize employee KPIs to measure improvement and determine how long the PIP will be in place. Setting these standards allows managers to focus on aligning employee behaviors with measurable factors that are linked to business success.

2. Set the Objectives

Managers should strive to be transparent in order to be effective coaches and create effective performance improvement plan processes. Be specific about the issues the performance improvement plan is designed to address. Discuss exactly what the employee will do to work toward their PIP goals.

Start small with two to three objectives that the employee should focus on for the duration of your performance meetings. For example, if an employee has trouble completing some daily responsibilities, you might set a goal for the employee to prioritize those tasks and complete them consistently through the 90-day PIP.

But don’t just stop at goal-setting — give continuous feedback to your employees. It’s a welcome strategy: 83% of employees want your feedback regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. Make sure your feedback is specific and timely to help employees successfully meet the objectives of their PIP. For example, if your employee is struggling to manage tasks, suggest designating time to work on each task on their daily calendar.

3. Open the Floor

Being an effective leader for your employees requires both encouragement and empowerment, especially when they’re struggling. During performance improvement meetings, employees are likely to have a lot of input, questions, and feedback. It’s important for HR managers to listen to what they have to say and encourage them to ask questions and share their opinions.

Remember, coaching is a two-way street. In the end, it takes both the manager and the employee to be fully dedicated to improving performance.

4. Document Progress

Once objectives have been set, sit down with your employee to document an action plan. HR managers need to ensure that specific, measurable performance goals are included to aid employees throughout their improvement process. As the performance improvement plan proceeds, managers can view and follow the employee’s progress to determine if goals are being met according to schedule.

Keep employees on track with their #performance improvement plans by setting and tracking goals. See more steps you can take for a successful #PIP on @ClearCompany’s blog:

5. Monitor and Follow-up

A performance improvement plan is not a one-time evaluation but an ongoing process. Set check-in meetings with your employee throughout their PIP. By regularly checking in with the employee, you can determine if additional critical feedback is needed or if the employee’s PIP is having a positive impact.

As employees continue on their path to improvement, offer positive reinforcement along the way to show your support and commitment to helping them reach their goals. When providing critical feedback, propose an objective. For example, if your employee has trouble managing their tasks, ask them to list six top-priority tasks to complete each day.

As you continue to monitor your employee’s progress, provide positive, specific feedback throughout the process. For example, “I can see that by organizing your top priority tasks for the day, your productivity has increased by 20%. Keep up the great work!” Recognition and encouragement are beneficial for engagement, so it follows that recognizing the accomplishments of employees on a PIP can boost engagement. Make sure your employees understand what you expect and that you’re there to guide them toward their path of success.

The Bottom Line

According to Josh Bersin, companies whose leaders are effective coaches can improve business results by 21% compared to those whose leaders are poor coaches. Those are good reasons to use a coaching approach to creating performance improvement plans at your organization. Coaches are able to identify talent strengths in others and nurture those factors to develop future leaders.

According to Josh Bersin, companies whose leaders are effective coaches can improve business results by 21% compared to those whose leaders are poor coaches.

At ClearCompany, we are committed to ensuring that your managers have the tools they need to achieve top productivity and engagement on their teams. Our modern Performance Management Software gives managers insight into their employees’ work to identify strengths and weaknesses and provide real-time feedback. With performance records, managers can spot performance trends and help employees reach their full potential.

Ready to learn more about how ClearCompany enables better performance improvement plans? Sign up for a personalized demo of our Performance Management tools today!

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