Much to many employers’ frustration, Performance Improvement Plans, or PIPs, often don’t create much improvement. In fact, they frequently function as one of two things: a way for management to phase out a problem employee or a way to temporarily push performance issues to the side.


Both of these scenarios are time-wasters. The first gives an employee that’s already on the outs hope of making a change. The second fails to address the problem, allowing it to pop up again and again.


Used correctly, PIPs are effective tools for real employee development. Here are the things you need to know about PIPs in order to utilize them successfully.


Setting Up Performance Improvement Plans

The goal of a PIP should be driving employee success. When you create the plan, don’t simply make a “do-this-or-you’re-fired” list and thrust it across the table at your employee. Instead, involve them in the process. Ask them where they feel the performance gaps are. Work with them to set goals that will help them move towards improvement. The goals should be specific, objective, and measurable.


Anything else sets them up for failure. If you present them with a one-sided list of vague and unrealistic goals, you haven’t created a Performance Improvement Plan for them; you’ve created an exit plan. They’ll continue on the same path they’ve been on (much to everyone’s frustration) and in 90 days, you’ll have to fire them.


Make sure you put a specific timeframe on the PIP. How long it lasts can depend on the organization’s needs or how egregious the offending behavior has been. Even if their performance has been a deal-breaker, you might need the employee to stick around and improve while you search for a replacement.


Using Your PIPs Effectively

Here’s a secret that many supervisors don’t realize: a Performance Improvement Plan is not a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. If you’d like to see real improvement, employee engagement has to be part of the plan.


This means communication and motivation. The communication starts when you involve the employee in laying out their plan. It should continue throughout the duration of the improvement process. Plan to meet with them weekly (at best) or every other week to discuss their progress. Your employee needs feedback to know if they’re moving in the right direction. Document their progress as you move along so that you have an objective record of where they currently are.


These subsequent meetings will help keep the ball rolling after the PIP is set up. To keep that momentum going, be sure you’re coaching and motivating the employee. Praise them for positive habits even as you work with them to address the negative ones.


When PIPs Fail

The whole point of a Performance Improvement Planning is all in the name — you’re looking for improvement. When that fails to happen, it’s often due to three problems. All three of these problems are impacted by leadership.


The first problem happens if management fails to define objective, measurable targets when they lay the plan out. As discussed above, this either presents the employee with a list of insurmountable hurdles or vague requests that leave them floating and uncertain through the duration of the plan. Communicate and involve them. If you’d really like to see improvement, make the goals realistic.


Next, comes poor communication (or even worse — none at all). Sometimes an employee gets pulled in for a PIP meeting, the plan is put in place, and no one brings it up again for 90 days. At the end of this period, unsurprisingly, they usually haven’t made much progress. Supervisors can’t expect an underperforming employee to coach themselves. That’s management’s role.


The final issue of a well-intentioned PIP can be a lack of follow-up. This often falls into two categories: you have an employee that can’t improve, but you won’t pull the trigger on firing them. Alternately, you have an employee who does have the capacity for improvement, but you’re not sure how to coach them.


If it’s the former, begin appropriate steps to transition them out. This may include a PIP if you’d like to better control negative behaviors in the meantime. If you believe the employee is coachable, follow the steps outlined earlier. At the end of 90 days, follow up to discuss the improvement they’ve made.


Follow-up should continue even after the PIP period, though. Too many times, employees bounce on and off of PIPs, and often for the same behaviors each time. Check in periodically to make sure they’re still working on improvement.


The goal of a PIP should be more than short-term improvement. Used correctly, it will help your employee do more than get past this one hurdle; it will help them become stronger as they travel their overall career path. For a PIP to be effective, both the employer and the employee have to put in the effort to make it work.



At PRADCO, we have the experience, drive, and tools to be your partner in hiring better talent. We’ll take the time to learn about your organization and customize solutions for you. We’re ready to help you hire with confidence. If you’re ready to get started, let’s talk.