Posted on February 9, 2016

Ask HR: What Is a Performance Improvement Plan?

You may or not be familiar with these three little letters: PIP. No, we're not talking about a character from Great Expectations. A PIP in the HR industry refers to a "Performance Improvement Plan." As HR professionals know, PIPs can be tricky. Employees don't generally want one, and managers may not want to give one.

Interested in knowing more about what PIPs are and what they entail? Check out this week's Ask HR column from the HR pros at HR Support Center.


We’re interested in implementing a performance improvement plan for one of our employees. What does it entail?

Answer from Margaret, HR Pro:

A performance improvement plan is a tool that employers can use to help underperforming employees succeed in the organization. The plan allows you to specify the company’s expectations with respect to employee performance and behavior and to define what success looks like going forward.

The plan itself can be detailed on a single-page form. For your convenience, we have a sample performance improvement plan document on the HR Support Center. In the document you will want to note the basic performance issue (e.g. efficiency, attendance), list examples of the employee’s performance deficiencies, and then state what actions you expect from the employee, how they should be accomplished, and in what timeframe they need to be completed. It is recommended that the plan also make it clear what the consequences will be for failing to meet and sustain improved performance.

As you do with every step of this process, document the meeting in which the performance improvement plan is implemented. You may also want to note that the performance plan is not intended to be an employment contract or guarantee of continuing employment.

The performance improvement plan also provides for follow-up meetings to discuss the employee’s progress. Upon the conclusion of the performance improvement plan, the company will make a decision as to the employee’s continued employment. We generally recommend that the life of the plan be two to three months. We also recommend either weekly or bi-weekly progress meetings with the employee.

If the employee continues to underperform or fails to sustain improved performance, you may need to move on to termination. In this case, you will have the documentation to demonstrate that you gave them a chance to improve. This record will make it more difficult for the employee to challenge the reason for a termination.

Margaret, HR ProMargaret holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Portland State University and a Professional Certificate in Human Resources Management. She has worked in a variety of HR roles in a multi-state capacity. Margaret regularly attends seminars and other continuing education courses to stay current with new developments and changes that affect the workplace and is active in local and national Human Resources organizations.

Do you have questions like this? One entire year of HR Support Center is cheaper than just one hour of a typical attorney's time. Ask us instead.