PIP: Empowering Employee Success

A performance improvement plan (PIP), also known as a performance action plan, is a tool that that can be used to assist struggling employees in improving their performance. This step by step plan establishes a clear timeline for employee improvement, while still holding them accountable for past performance and setting clear expectations for the future. When used correctly, a PIP can not only empower an employee to take control of their performance, but it can help build stronger relationships between management and employees, thereby improving employee satisfaction.

Before implementing a PIP, take time to carefully consider if a PIP is appropriate for your specific circumstances. An effective PIP requires the dedication of management and the employee. If a PIP is being used as documentation to CYA before sending a disruptive or unmotivated employee on their way, it will more than likely end badly, leaving you feeling drained and your employee feeling sabotaged.

On the other hand, when a motivated employee’s performance is down, a PIP may be the perfect opportunity to open up a dialogue. It can be easy to become frustrated with an under-performing employee and dismiss the human factor in their performance. A PIP offers the opportunity for them to open up, helping you to understand what is causing the employee to struggle and giving them the opportunity to push forward, overcome obstacles, and take control of improving their own productivity.

An effective PIP begins with acknowledging that an employee will more often than not see the implementation of a PIP as a death sentence. While this stigma can create challenges in the beginning, a well thought out plan and engaged supervisor can quickly overcome this. How you approach the plan can not only alleviate the employee’s uncertainty but ultimate strengthen your relationship.

Here are some tips for creating an engaging and successful PIP:

1.   Create a Plan: Be Specific. Outline specific expectations, establishing what is needed to be successful and where the employee is failing to meet expectations. The average PIP lasts for 30, 60, or 90 days, depending on what needs to be accomplished. Use this as a reference point as you create a specific timeline with measurable objectives and consequences if these objectives are not met within a specific time frame.

The final step in your plan should be establishing a functional meeting schedule. Be explicit about how often you will meet, for how long, and what expectations are for these meetings. Being clear about your commitment (and sticking to it) can help the employee see that you are dedicated to their success and will ease anxiety around the PIP.

2.   Present Your Plan: Be Open to Feedback. Present your plan to the employee, being as specific as possible and express your faith in their ability to improve. Offer clarifications on any areas of confusion, and allow the employee to give feedback. After meeting with the employee, integrate any agreed upon changes.  Giving the employee power over aspects of the PIP can help them feel empowered rather than trapped, giving them the opportunity to take charge of their own performance improvement.

3.   Execute Your Plan: Stick to It. Check in with the employee regularly. Sticking to your scheduled meetings allows you to congratulate them on improvements, discuss areas that are not improving, and discuss the next steps to success. They also provide a space for you to reaffirm your commitment to your employee’s success just by being present. Take notes at all meetings; note discussion, areas of success, and next steps for continued improvement.

4.   Conclude Your Plan: Decide Next Steps. Ideally, when the deadline approaches for the end of the PIP, the employee will have met expectations and performance will have improved dramatically. In that case, meet with the employee to congratulate them on their success, express your satisfaction with performance, and establish expectations for the future. While this should be a happy occasion it is important not only to formally close the PIP but also to ensure that the employee understands the continued expectation for performance.

If an employee fails to meet expectations, this meeting is the place to act on previously discussed consequences or to re-evaluate. Before terminating or demoting an employee, look at what goals they have met and how far they are from the expected performance improvement. Extensions of a PIP are not unheard of and can be useful if an employee is genuinely putting forth effort and falling just short of expectations. If the goal is ultimately to empower that employee to be successful, a few additional weeks may make all the difference.

A PIP can seem like a taxing amount of work for an under-performing employee, particularly if they are already causing frustration and stress. In those situations, it is important to step back, take a moment to remember what can contribute to low performance and engage the employee rather than dismissing them. Used effectively, a PIP can allow you to retain a good employee, save on the cost of a new hire, and create a more positive office environment. Assess your situation, weigh your options, and if you can, help your employee to succeed.

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