As all employers and HR representative know, performance management can be one of the toughest aspects in business. You may have an employee that you know could be a good performer; however, despite your coaching efforts they are just not getting there. Or maybe you have just a bad performer who is creating issues at work and causing the good performers to become disgruntled because they feel the poor performer is not being held accountable. One tool that can be useful in these cases is a Performance Improvement Plan or a PIP. For most, PIPs are not a new idea; however, in order for a PIP to be effective it must be done correctly. This article discusses the elements necessary for an effective PIP that will support a poor performer’s improvement.

As with all good performance related documentation, a PIP should contain clear and factual statements about how an employee is failing to meet expectations. PIPs should never include any type of personal attacks or opinions. All statements contained in a PIP should be objective and should include real life examples of where an employee has failed to meet company’s expectations. Expectations can be related to employee’s relationships or interactions with co-workers and/or supervisors, employee’s job performance, or their work ethic. Prior documentation regarding poor performance, such as documented verbal warnings or written warnings, along with annual performance evaluations should be used when developing the areas of improvement for an employee.

Once you have laid out the areas where the employee needs improvement, the PIP should then provide clear and specific expectations for improvement. Vague statements about what an employee needs to do, will not go far in helping the employee improve. As such, they need to be specifically told what they need to do to meet expectations going forward. For example, if an employee has performance issues, the expectation should be employee needs to make x number of widgets a day or make x number of sales calls in a certain time frame. If an employee has been having attitude issues, PIP should state something along the lines of – employee is not to be on their cell phone or talking to coworkers during staff meetings, employee is expected to listen during all meetings and provide positive contributions during meetings.

Another tool that can be used when developing a PIP is an employee’s job description. Job descriptions contain specific statements regarding job duties and performance expectations. As such, it sets forth the duties and responsibilities of an employee and it is also something that the employee should already be familiar with; therefore, it is a useful tool that can be referenced when creating a PIP for an employee.

PIPs should also clearly state the timeframe for the PIP. Typically, a PIPs timeframe is for 30, 60, or 90 days. The timeframe should be based on how long it would reasonably take to improve the specific performance issue. It is important to make sure to select a timeframe that is a sufficient amount of time to allow the employee to show the improvement the company desires. A clear indication that a PIP is only being used to move the employee to termination is electing a timeframe that is too short.

While PIPs should include expectations of what the employee will do, it can and should also include training and other support for the employee. Additional training can go far in assisting the employee with improving performance and meeting expectations. Training can include shadowing another employee during their shift, internal trainings on specific topics, as well as outside trainings on job-related issues. When discussing the PIP with the employee, it can be useful to ask employee about areas where they believe they may benefit from receiving additional training or areas where they may need additional support. Including these specific areas where the employee feels that they are deficient goes a long way in making the PIP effective and also makes the employee feel like they are heard and apart of the PIP process.

The PIP should also include regularly scheduled check-ins with the employee. Just providing the PIP to the employee without any further action on the part of HR or the employee’s supervisor will result in an ineffective PIP. Check-ins provide the employee with an opportunity to discuss their progress and allows the employee to get additional clarification or specific training on a certain issue. Check-ins also allow supervisors and HR to provide timely feedback to the employee regarding how they are doing with meeting the expectations that have been laid out in the PIP.

When it is time to present the PIP to the employee, it is important to have HR and the supervisor and manager along with the employee involved in the meeting. For a PIP to be effective it is important that the employee feels that they are being set up for success instead of being set up for failure. During this initial meeting you will want to be open to employee’s feedback regarding the PIP. The PIP can always be modified based on any feedback received.

An effective PIP takes time and effort by all parties involved — HR, the supervisor, and the employee. However, a properly drafted and implemented PIP can assist the company in retaining its employees and also demonstrates to all employees that the company is committed to working with employees so that they can succeed.