If there is something most employees don’t like about work, that would be a performance improvement plan or a PIP. Whenever a performance improvement plan is handed to an employee the first question they have is ‘will I be fired after the performance improvement plan’?

Performance improvement plans are notorious because many employees equate it to getting fired eventually, which is not necessarily true. On the contrary, this tool is a way to improve employee job performance. 

Before we get to the definition of a performance improvement plan, let’s go through the three phases of human resource management first.

Employee Self Service

What are the Three Phases of Human Resources Management?

Human Resource Management refers to the process of hiring, training, and developing the skills of employees. HR is an important function of any organization. All employees go through three phases of HRM:

1. Hiring and Selection

As the first phase of HRM, HR builds a plan to fill a vacant position. This plan includes having a job description, its advertisement, and the preferred qualifications. The goal is to attract candidates that are suitable to fill the position. After this process, screening is done and once the preferred candidate accepts the offer, they are officially hired.

2. Training

The second phase involves the training of the selected employee. The duration of training is decided by the organization itself and varies according to the last experience of the candidate. Training is important because it helps an employee perform better.

3. Performance Management

The third phase of HRM is different for every organization. In this stage, managers provide feedback to employees on their current performance. Rewards are also given for good performance. The goal of this stage is to boost employee performance to yield better results. However, if an employee fails to meet their performance goals, they are given a performance improvement plan.

What is a Performance Improvement Plan?

A performance improvement plan or a PIP plan is a formal document that is given to any employee on account of a recurring performance or behavioral issue. The purpose of this tool is to fix an employees’ current performance to gain a good standing in the organization once again. This plan comes with a timeline and employees must meet the mentioned milestones on time. Otherwise, they may end up losing their job.

While they are not all that bad, many employees consider performance improvement plans to be a bad thing. Think of this plan as an employee improvement plan that is meant to fix the behavioral and performance issues to turn employees’ productivity around.

How to Write a Performance Improvement Plan?

If you want your employees to improve their performance, the performance improvement plan should be effective. Here is a step by step detailing to establish a successful employee performance improvement plan:

Determine the Goal

As the first step, determine the goal to be achieved and then compare it with the current standing of your employee’s performance. Specify all the shortfalls of your employees in terms of either their behavior or performance.

Instead of simply handing the employee with their performance improvement plan, set a meeting for this. Now, a good practice would be to collaborate with them and take their feedback. HR, the manager, and the employee should collectively discuss the issue.

Create SMART Goals

Setting measurable goals is crucial. You don’t want your employee to think they’re being punished with unrealistic expectations. To set goals in the performance improvement plan, use the SMART goal framework. Make sure that a PIP is worth following. A SMART goal framework includes goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

First, find out what could be the reason behind an employees’ underperformance. It could be anything from personal issues, to their lack of interest in the organization. Then come up with an employee improvement plan made especially for them.

Make Sure you are Helpful

The whole point of a performance improvement plan is to help your employees in improving their current state of work. So make sure you provide them with all the necessary help needed throughout the plan including training, coaching, or any other help they might need. It wouldn’t be nice if they are left unanchored to work on themselves.

Being Helpful

Check-in on Them

If you give your employees a performance improvement plan and then vanish till the end of it, it wouldn’t yield any positive outcome. Set recurring meetings with them in which they get to discuss the progress they make, the roadblocks they face, and if they need any additional assistance.

Set Consequences of Failing

Specify beforehand what will be consequences if the employee fails to meet their performance improvement goal. Also make sure that the employee thinks of a PIP as a chance to improve their performance, because you want them on your team at peak productivity. 

Performance Improvement Plan Conversation

For effective employee performance management, you should know how to put an employee on a performance improvement plan. To do that, make sure you begin with the right conversation.

Make the Right Assumption

Begin with the intention of helping your employees. Next, If you want an employee to improve their performance or a behavioral issue, make sure they want that too. If they are not capable of improving themselves, there’s not much value in trying. Throughout your conversation be clear about the goals they have to meet and what consequences they have to face upon failing.

Be Specific but not Direct

While you are at it, avoid coming directly at them with direct phrases like ‘you’ve been careless at work’ this will not only increase the ambiguity but also lessen the chances of employees improving them. A good practice for these conversations is to always include examples from their past performance and use that as an instance of what should not happen.

Make Sure they Understand you

All conversations yield positive results if both parties are actively listening and understanding. Make sure your employees fully get you and are aware of what expectations you have from them. 

Performance Improvement Plan Example

A performance improvement plan sample is as follows:

Case 1: Increasing the productivity of the marketing department.

Suppose, an employee from the marketing team hasn’t performed well in gaining enough subscribers for the past couple of months, their PIP would look like this:

Goal: To increase the subscribers to the organization’s newsletter by 25%.

Expectation: Increase the number of subscribers and reduce the number of people who unsubscribe.

Action Plan: Adopt conversion rate optimization methods to increase subscribers while also improving newsletter quality to reduce unsubscribe rates. 


Case 2: Decreasing the issue return rate of the development team.

Suppose the issue return rate has increased for an employee from a software development team, their PIP would be:


Goal: To decrease the issue return rate of the development team by 40%.

Expectation: Decrease the issue return rate and stop it from increasing in the future.

Action Plan: introduce practices for code reviews and PR reviews. Additionally, break down bigger tasks into simpler tasks to improve the quality of development.

For a complete performance improvement plan template, see this.

Performance Improvement Plan Employee Rights

Before handing out a performance improvement plan to employees, they must be aware of their rights.

Adverse Action

While many employees think of a performance improvement plan as something scary, employees should know it is not considered as an adverse action against them. In any case, employees are protected by the law from adverse actions that a manager may take against them.

Signing the Document

Many employees think that signing the document means they accept their subpar performance. On the other hand, if they are reluctant to sign, that would show they don’t want to improve resulting in termination. Before signing the PIP, it is an employee’s right to:

  • Carefully read the entire document
  • If any assumption on the document is not correct, they can bring it to the attention of HR.

Signing the performance improvement plan

Refusing the Performance Improvement Plan

Although the employees can refuse the performance improvement plan, it may not necessarily be in their favor. Refusing the PIP would mean they don’t comply with rules set to improve their performance. Hence refusing the performance improvement plan would only lead to the termination of their job. If the employees are keen about their job, they will accept and try to improve their performance. 

Negating the Contents of the Performance Improvement Plan

Oregon University HR, states that employees can not dispute the contents of a performance improvement plan. However, if they do think an unfair performance improvement plan is put up against them, they can legally take the matter to HR.

Performance Improvement Plan Termination

If you hire an employee because they seemed fit for the job but over the months you realize they have not been making significant progress, skipping meetings and not meeting deadlines you start to think about what to do about them. Firing them right away would be unfair and risky for your organization. 

That’s when you decide to put them on the performance improvement plan. However, failing to meet goals mentioned in the employee improvement plan, would ultimately result in their termination. 

Before you go about terminating them, make sure to:

Communicate Clearly

Before you hire them, you should clearly communicate the job description. It will save you the stress of filtering out subpar performing employees later. Secondly, be clear about the expectations you set for your employees. Pinpointing details about every position will help build the right expectations. 

Coach them Well

Even if it comes to termination, you should leave no stone unturned in coaching them. Be sure to provide them adequate feedback that is needed for them to improve their performance.

Consider Written Counseling

It is similar to a performance improvement plan, only written. This document also includes goals and managers help them meet these goals. The signature on this document simply suggests that the employee has received counseling.

Write Everything Down

Whatever you do to improve their performance, write everything down. Otherwise, you will have no evidence against underperforming employees when terminating them.

How to Terminate If Everything Fails

If all of the above-mentioned plans fail and there is no quality progress in their work or behavior, you can consider firing them. When terminating them, honesty is usually the best policy. State to them they’re being terminated because of their below-average work performance despite several tries to improve their performance. 

Before you terminate them, make sure you:

  • View all your relevant documents.
  • Contact your legal team and be sure that your case is justified. If it turns out to be unfair, you might put your organization at risk.
  • Reconsider the reason for termination.
  • Think if you will find a replacement soon.
  • Finally, make sure you aren’t being unfair to them.

Personal Improvement Plan

A personal improvement plan is a type of personal development plan in which you train yourself. Employees need to constantly work on themselves to improve their skills and ensure that they are at peak productivity. A personal improvement plan is something that can help do so. 

It involves an action plan, training, informing yourself about important relevant things, and setting goals for yourself. In this type of performance improvement plan, there isn’t a manager to help you but you decide about training yourself to improve your performance in the organization. Some steps you can take to set your improvement plan are:

  • Highlight the problem areas
  • Set the desired result
  • Get support from online resources
  • Train yourself with courses
  • Write and compare progress

The Takeaway on Performance Improvement Plan

PIPs are a great strategy to help an employee improve their performance. It is especially of great help to those employees who are passionate about their jobs and would do anything to prove valuable to their organization. Employees need to know that performance improvement plans are not something to be scared of, but they are a great way of helping them improve their work performance.