How to Write a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a structured tool used by employers to help underperforming employees enhance their skills and meet the required work standards. The process entails identifying performance gaps, setting realistic goals, and providing support to facilitate employee growth.

Purpose of a PIP

PIPs serve multiple purposes, which are important to understand to leverage their full potential:

  • Addressing performance issues promptly, thereby reducing the chances of misunderstandings and disputes.
  • Providing a framework for employees to improve and succeed in their roles.
  • Ensuring clear communication between the manager and employee, creating a supportive environment for professional growth.
  • Establishing a fair process to justify any potential termination, should the employee fail to improve.

Setting Clear Expectations

For a PIP to be effective, it is crucial to set clear expectations that are:

Specific Identify the precise area of performance that needs improvement, such as task completion or communication skills.
Measurable Include quantifiable targets or progress indicators, like sales numbers or deadlines.
Achievable Ensure that the goals are attainable given the employee’s abilities and available resources.
Relevant Ensure that the improvement areas are directly correlated to the employee’s job responsibilities and overall business objectives.
Time-bound Establish a defined timeline for achieving the desired improvement, typically one to three months, with regular checkpoints for progress review.


Creating an Effective PIP

Key Components

To create an effective PIP, keep these key components in mind:

  • Set clear objectives: Define the specific performance areas that need improvement – whether it’s meeting sales quotas or maintaining customer retention rates. Ensure that the objectives are measurable and have clear deadlines.
  • SMART goals: Set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. This helps both the employee and management to track progress and measure the success of the PIP.
  • Action plan: Create a detailed action plan with steps the employee needs to follow to achieve the set goals. This may include additional training, progress milestones, or employee-manager check-ins.
  • Timeline: Set a reasonable timeline for the employee to achieve the desired outcomes. This provides clear expectations and ensures that the PIP remains focused and time-sensitive.
  • Monitoring and reviewing: Establish a process for reviewing the employee’s progress periodically and making necessary adjustments to the plan. This helps to maintain accountability and transparency throughout the plan’s duration.
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Performance Issue Objective SMART Goal Action Plan Deadline
Failure to meet quarterly sales quota 80% of the quarterly quota Achieve 90% of the next quarterly quota
  • Attend weekly sales training
  • Develop new prospecting strategies
  • Set up weekly meetings with manager
End of next quarter

This template provides a clear overview of the performance issue, objective, SMART goal, action plan, and deadline.

Best Practices for PIP Implementation

Collaborative Approach

One of the most important best practices for implementing a performance improvement plan (PIP) is adopting a collaborative approach. Involving the employee in the process of identifying performance gaps and setting achievable goals ensures a sense of ownership and commitment from them. This collaboration fosters open communication and helps build trusting relationships between the employee and their manager.

To create a collaborative PIP:

  • Hold an open and honest discussion with the employee about their performance concerns
  • Ask for their input in identifying the root causes of the issues
  • Co-create a plan with the employee to address these concerns with clear objectives, expected outcomes, and timelines
  • Encourage the employee to provide feedback and suggestions during the process

Regular Check-Ins

Another key best practice for PIP implementation is scheduling regular check-ins between the employee and their manager. These check-ins allow both sides to discuss the employee’s progress, identify and address any obstacles, and make adjustments to the plan if necessary.

Check-ins should ideally be conducted weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the needs of the employee and manager. The goal is to maintain a supportive and responsive environment for the employee throughout the duration of the PIP. Regular check-ins should include:

  • Updates on the employee’s progress towards the goals set in the PIP
  • Discussions of any additional support or resources required to achieve the goals
  • Identification and resolution of any barriers or challenges the employee has encountered
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Positive Reinforcement

Using positive reinforcement in PIP implementation is essential for motivating the employee and fostering a growth mindset. Recognizing and celebrating the employee’s small and significant achievements during the process not only boosts their morale but also reinforces the desired behavior change.

Some strategies for providing positive reinforcement include:

  • Offering genuine praise and acknowledgement of the employee’s progress
  • Providing constructive feedback that focuses on the improvement areas while acknowledging the efforts made
  • Sharing the employee’s success with the rest of the team to create a supportive workplace environment

Mistakes to Avoid in PIPs

When creating a performance improvement plan (PIP), it is crucial to avoid common mistakes that may hinder the effectiveness of the plan.


Ambiguity in a PIP can lead to confusion and misunderstandings between the employee and the manager. To prevent this, ensure that the plan is clearly defined with specific goals and objectives.

  • Provide detailed expectations of acceptable performance
  • Clearly outline the performance issues that need to be addressed
  • Set achievable and measurable goals for improvement


Inconsistent expectations or requirements can undermine the credibility of the PIP and may lead the employee to lose trust in the process.

  • Ensure that the PIP is aligned with company policies and performance standards
  • Apply the same evaluation criteria to all employees undergoing a PIP
  • Monitor progress regularly and provide consistent feedback throughout the process

Lack of Support

One critical element of an effective PIP is providing adequate support for the employee during the improvement process. Without proper support, the employee may struggle to meet the objectives of the plan.

  • Providing resources and tools needed for success (e.g., training, mentorship, etc.)
  • Regularly checking in with the employee to address questions or concerns
  • Offering constructive feedback and encouragement throughout the PIP

Evaluating and Adjusting the PIP

A crucial part of implementing a performance improvement plan (PIP) is evaluating its effectiveness and making necessary adjustments. This involves tracking progress, addressing any obstacles, and fine-tuning the plan to ensure continuous improvement.

Measuring Progress

To evaluate the PIP, managers should first measure the employee’s progress towards defined goals. This may include quantitative measurements, such as sales targets or customer satisfaction rates, or qualitative measurements, such as communication or teamwork improvements.

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It is essential to establish benchmarks and milestones at the beginning of the PIP and review them periodically to gauge progress. Regular check-ins and performance reviews can facilitate this process, allowing both the employee and manager to discuss successes, challenges, and areas for improvement.

Making Necessary Changes

As the PIP progresses, it is crucial to identify any obstacles or setbacks that may be hindering the employee’s growth. Managers should be prepared to adapt the plan to address these challenges, providing additional support or resources as necessary.

Possible adjustments to the PIP may include:

  • Modifying goals to be more achievable or relevant
  • Identifying and addressing gaps in training or skill development
  • Providing additional coaching or mentorship
  • Adjusting expectations based on new information or shifting business priorities

Throughout the process, open communication and collaboration between the manager and employee are essential to ensure the PIP remains effective and continues to support the employee’s growth and development.

In conclusion, creating an effective performance improvement plan (PIP) is crucial for helping employees enhance their skills and addressing performance issues in a structured manner.

It is essential to engage employees throughout the PIP process and establish clear expectations, objectives, and milestones. Both managers and employees should work closely to track progress and ensure constant communication, which helps build trust and encourages employee commitment to the improvement process.

Never forget the importance of follow-ups and taking time to acknowledge an employee’s progress. Recognizing achievements and providing ongoing support will reinforce a positive working environment and improved performance for the long term.

Posted in: Performance Reviews