How to use performance improvement plan templates (PIPs)

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Summary

A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a tool you can use to create individualized and actionable steps to help team members make progress at work. PIPs can be useful for team members that you think will benefit from a structured action plan. Use this article to learn how PIPs can benefit your team.

It’s never easy telling someone on your team that they need to improve. Sometimes though, that's inevitable. When someone IS doing poorly, you have to have that conversation. But when you make that conversation actionable and give them a clear path toward improvement, you’re offering them the chance to begin (or re-begin) succeeding on the team.

A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a tool you can use to help any unbalanced team members find their center. Read on to learn what to include in a performance improvement plan template and how this tool can strengthen your team. 

What is a performance improvement plan?

A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a motivational tool that offers individualized and actionable steps for team members to meet performance goals. If you have a team member that isn’t meeting goals, you can use a PIP as an opportunity to improve through customized action steps. 

Typically, you’ll meet with team members individually to discuss performance issues and work with that team member to create a PIP. The PIP should include a structured plan for the future and achievable goals.

You may wonder when to use a performance improvement plan versus taking a less formal or more serious route. PIPs can be useful in the following scenarios:

  • When a team member has consistent performance problems

  • When you think you can correct a team member’s performance problems with an action plan

  • After you’ve provided all reasonable accommodations for the team member

  • After you’ve provided all necessary training for the position

Some team members underperform at work because they lack structure, but can thrive with the right enforcements in place. That’s exactly what a PIP aims to provide.

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Tips to consider before implementing a performance improvement plan

The most important thing to remember before you go into this conversation is that a PIP is designed to help team members improve. Think of this as a conversation where you offer constructive feedback and create tangible next steps for improvement. The tips below can make it easier for you to go into a conversation with an open mind and help your team members digest the information effectively.

  • Prepare your team members: If this is your first PIP conversation, you might want to bring it up without giving your team member a heads up, but by preparing your team member, you can focus the conversation on constructive improvements. Regardless of how you broach the subject, make sure to foster strong communication in the workplace so they feel comfortable expressing themselves.

  • Listen actively: Once you’re face to face, your goal should be to listen and try to understand. Instead of assigning blame, ask them to explain the situation and anything that might be contributing to their performance issues. Speaking individually to them could reveal problems you weren’t aware of before, which may impact the performance improvement plan you create together.

  • Stay positive: As you give constructive feedback to team members, maintain a positive attitude. A PIP is scary, but at its core it's also an opportunity to improve. 

  • Find the root cause of the problem: Understanding the root cause of work performance issues is crucial, and a 1-on-1 meeting can be a great place to dig deeper. You may be seeing behavior or actions that stem from a situational or personal root cause. Getting to that core reason can help you develop a more appropriate plan of action.

  • Define a clear path to success: Telling a team member what they’re doing wrong isn’t helpful unless you offer them ways to do better. This is where the PIP action plan becomes helpful.

  • Explain that you’ll review their progress: As your team member works on the steps in their PIP, let them know that you’ll be there to review their progress and motivate them along the way. This will let them know that they’re not alone in this journey. It will also help keep them accountable and on track with their goals. 

Read: Don’t like giving feedback? These 20 tips are for you

What’s included in a performance improvement plan?

Before you customize a performance improvement plan, it’s important to understand what typically goes into one. As you draft your template, keep this checklist in mind.

[inline illustration] What to include in a performance improvement plan (infographic)
  • Company expectations statement: This may be a standardized statement of your company’s expectations for team member work performance.

  • Performance overview: The section should highlight the performance of that team member in comparison to the expectations of their role.

  • Action plan: Provide action items with measurable steps for the team member to meet. If possible, frame these objectives as SMART goals.

  • Follow-up schedule: The “T” in SMART stands for time-bound. Every PIP template should include a timeline with progress milestones.

  • Consequences: This section of the PIP explains what might happen if the PIP proves ineffective. This might include further escalation or possible termination.

How to write a performance improvement plan

Writing a performance improvement plan will require a thoughtful meeting with your team member. Before the meeting, prepare what evidence you have to support claims of your team members' performance issues. Then during the meeting, you and your team member can work through the components listed above one by one. Use the steps below to draft a PIP during the meeting.

[inline illustration] 5 steps for create a performance improvement plan (infographic)

1. Go over company and roles and expectations

The first step in writing a PIP is to cover the expectations. While team members may have different roles and responsibilities, you should have a general way of defining what you expect and what qualifies as underperforming.  

This statement will serve as a comparison and can help you explain any unique issues your team members face. The PIP shouldn’t be the first time team members see this statement. If you want team members to meet expectations, you’ll need to make those expectations clear early on and often. 

Tip: The company should have formal documentation of what their expectations are for team members. Make sure your team members always have access to these expectations, even when they aren’t having performance issues. That way, everyone can remain informed about what’s expected of them.

2. Identify areas for improvement

Once you’ve reviewed company expectations, identify specific areas needing improvement. This means listing specific ways that this team member isn’t meeting expectations and providing examples of their performance.

While you need to point out problems in a PIP to help struggling team members, you can also frame this section to be helpful and actionable. Tips to make this section more constructive include:

  • Express your belief in the team member to do better

  • Only state objective problems

  • Always include details and facts to support the problems you’re referencing 

  • Focus on problems that have clear solutions 

  • Don’t point out problems that come from differences in opinion or deficiencies the team member can’t control

  • Look for the root cause of every problem in order to identify long-term solutions.

Tip: A PIP should be based on objectivity and include facts—not subjective opinions based on your own version of what success looks like. You can avoid this unconscious bias known as idiosyncratic rater bias by setting specific and clear assessment criteria and conducting multi-rater reviews to gather performance data.

3. Create an action plan

Every PIP should include a detailed action plan for how the team member can improve. This action plan may include goals, progress milestones, and additional training. 

In particular, make sure the goals you set are SMART. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. The SMART goal structure is ideal when creating an action plan because it provides measurable objectives to check in on. This makes the follow-up process feel more structured and tangible.

Tip: Keep track of your action plan in a central source of truth, like a project management tool. Make sure both you and your team member have access to the tool, so you can see updates and make changes in real-time. Then, use Gantt charts to visualize milestones and track progress as you go.

Create an action plan template

4. Set a follow-up schedule

Every PIP should have a follow-up schedule that aligns with your action plan. This schedule should include regularly timed check-ins and mentoring throughout the performance improvement plan.

A schedule will hold team members accountable to their goals and provide a target date for when you hope to see improvement. It will also provide clarity and structure for when you check in and support them during the improvement process.

Tip: Create a schedule and task with reminders for your next check-in. This will give your team members something to look forward to so they feel motivated to boost their productivity and performance.

5. Define next steps

In this section, you’ll explain what may happen if the PIP is ineffective. If a team member is unable to make meaningful, measurable improvements, then the position may not be the right fit for them. Consult with your HR team or department lead for next steps.

PIP example and free template

Below, you’ll see an example of a performance improvement plan. 

Example scenario: Sally isn’t currently meeting company expectations because she frequently misses deadlines, skips team meetings, and fails to contribute to team projects. Her performance must improve if she wants to stay in this role, but her manager Kat thinks improvement is possible. The root causes of Sally’s poor work performance seem like easy fixes. With better task management, team collaboration, and guidance from Kat, Sally should be able to excel with time. 

Example action plan/SMART goals: In the next 3 months, Sally will meet all deadlines, attend all scheduled meetings, and contribute to at least one team project.

[inline illustration] Performance improvement plan (example)

Try our free PIP template to streamline an action plan and help your team improve at work.

Free performance improvement plan template

How to track PIP objectives

One of the most important parts of the PIP process is monitoring your team members’ progress over time. Without this step, you won’t know whether the PIP is working. 

To do this, make sure your goals and your action plan live in the same place. Too often, goal setting happens in spreadsheets or slide decks, which are separated and siloed from the actual work happening. Without the connection between goals and tasks, your team members won’t be able to clearly see how they’re progressing and—most importantly—improving. 

That’s why at Asana, we’ve integrated goals into our product. By visualizing goals and tasks side by side, team members can: 

  • Keep team members accountable to their deadlines

  • Monitor team member progress in real time

  • Track improvement goals against past performance reviews

  • Schedule follow-up meetings 

  • Include team members in these processes for full transparency

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Track progress on PIPs with work management software

PIPs can invoke a sense of urgency and motivation in struggling team members to encourage them to put their best foot forward. As you help these individuals set performance goals, use a tool like Asana to watch them succeed in real time and push them to keep going. 

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