How to Establish a Performance Improvement Plan

POST on Human Resources Management by Jamie Johnson

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A performance improvement plan can be a bit of a controversial topic. A lot of employers think it’s something too formal, and very unlikely to work.

While it may be a foreign concept to some, it can, in fact, be the difference between an underperforming employee and your next top employee.

You can never really know why the employee is underperforming – it might be both yours and their fault.

It could be a training issue, for example. Or maybe the employee has some personal problems?

Whatever the reason may be, a weak employee might be dragging the entire team down.

What is a Performance Improvement Plan?

A performance improvement plan is a way for you to help your employee succeed and learn from their work history. When you establish a performance improvement plan for an employee, you open up a channel of communication with that person and establish metrics to help them improve.

Based on your conversations with that employee, you can figure out whether that person has all the tools they need to be successful in their job.

If you don’t know how to properly handle it, this might seem a bit hard – and that’s where we come in to help.

How to Establish a Performance Improvement Plan

A performance improvement plan should clearly outline the following:

  • Area that the employee is underperforming in
  • How they’re expected to improve
  • The outcome for failing to meet the new criteria.

To avoid any misunderstandings, it is a good idea to have your employee sign off on the plan to acknowledge that they understand and agree to the objectives you laid out for them.

Here are six ways you can establish your own performance improvement plan:

Outline Employee Work-History

Before you can meet with your employee, you need to document that person’s work history and outline the specific ways they have been underperforming in their job.

If you feel like a performance improvement plan is necessary, then part certainly won’t be hard.

Do make sure to, however, make it as objective as possible. “Behavioral problems” or “negative personality” is not exactly what you’re looking for.

Rather, find specific instances where the employee missed the mark for a certain job function. Talk to their peers and managers to get as accurate of an idea as possible.

Clear Plan for Improvement

Now that you have clearly outlined the problem, it’s time to develop an action plan for improvement.

To create a working performance improvement plan, you’ll need to keep 3 things in mind:

  • Performance Metrics. Objectively measure where the employee is now, and where you want them to be at the end of the plan. This should, of course, be on-par with how the rest of the employees are scoring.
  • Reasonable Timeline & Milestones. You can’t expect an underperformer to turn into an overachiever within a few days. Give them a reasonable time, and Milestones to meet. If they can’t meet the monthly milestone, for example, then you’ll know what the reason is, and possibly offer additional help or mentorship.
  • Mention the Consequences. The employee should be aware what the consequences might be if they fail to meet their goals. Don’t be too heavy-handed, however, as the employee might get demotivated. The goal is not to threaten them into performing better but to give them a chance at getting better at the job.

Coordinate with HR

Prior to meeting with that employee, you should review your plan with the HR department. Someone from human resources will be able to evaluate the performance improvement plan without emotion.

They will also be able to tell you if the goals are specific and measurable and whether the timeline is reasonable or not.

Meet with the Employee

Now that you have done all the necessary work to prepare, you are ready to sit down and have a conversation with your employee.

Ideally, creating a performance improvement plan should be a positive experience but some employees may feel like it’s the long goodbye before they are terminated. Let them know that you are invested in their success with the company and the performance improvement plan is an opportunity for them to get better – not a threat of firing.

Make sure that person understands and signs off on the performance improvement plan before concluding the meeting.

Listen to the Employee

It is important that you listen to your employee’s perspective on why the breakdown in their performance is occurring. By considering their point of view, you may learn information that you weren’t previously aware of.

That person may point to circumstances that they believe are beyond their control, such as friction with a manager or another employee. You will want to look into those claims rather than just dismissing them as they could be an indication of a larger problem within that team.

Schedule Follow-ups

Now that the employee understands what the plan entails, it is incredibly important you that stick with the established plan. If you give them the plan and bid farewell, the employee won’t be able to take the situation seriously.

Every once in a while, have 1-on-1 follow-up meetings with the employees to discuss their progress.

This accomplishes 3 things:

  • The employee knows that you care about their career, and will be more dedicated
  • Allow the employee to ask for any additional help or resources
  • Keep you updated on their progress


When an employee is underperforming, this creates stress not only for that person but for their entire team and can hurt the company’s bottom line.

The best way to combat this problem is to help that person get better at their job. By establishing a performance improvement plan, you give that employee a clear blueprint for success by letting them know what you expect going forward.

Have you ever used a performance improvement plan? Let us know how you did it or how it worked out down in the comments!

If you liked this article, you might also want to learn about improving employee buy-in or employee onboarding

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