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How to Create a Performance Improvement Plan That Actually Improves Performance

A formal performance improvement plan (PIP) can be an effective way to address underperformance on your team. But a poorly executed PIP can make problems worse. Here’s how to create a PIP that leads to real improvement.

Start with Clarity on the Performance Gap

Before creating a PIP, you need 100% clarity on the performance gap you’re trying to address. Vague plans based on fuzzy problems won’t get results.

To get crystal clear on the gap, ask these questions:

  • What specifically is the employee not delivering vs expectations? Get very detailed.
  • How big is the gap? Quantify it if possible.
  • How frequently is the gap occurring? Daily? Weekly?
  • What impact does the gap have on the team/company?

Document the answers thoroughly. They will form the foundation for setting expectations in the PIP.

Set Crystal Clear Expectations

With the performance gap quantified, you can now set clear expectations for improvement.

Be as specific as possible in outlining the expectations, including:

  • Definable metrics for success
  • Timeframes for demonstrating improvement
  • Explicit description of required behaviors/deliverables

Setting clear expectations reduces subjectivity and gives the employee precise goals to work towards.

For example, instead of "improve communication skills" say "send daily status updates to manager by 9am".

Get Buy-In from the Employee

Before implementing a PIP, ensure the employee understands and buys into the expectations.

Schedule a meeting to discuss the plan. Explain your perspective on the performance gap and ask for their view. Allow time for a two-way dialog.

If the employee seems resistant, dig deeper on concerns. Seek to understand, not convince.

Getting genuine buy-in creates shared commitment to the plan. Lack of buy-in spells doom for execution.

Provide Resources and Support

You can't just tell someone to improve - you must support them.

Consider what resources the employee needs to meet the PIP expectations. Things like:

  • Training on specific skills
  • Extra coaching/mentoring
  • Changes to their workload
  • Connecting with role models

Discuss support needs with the employee and get creative. The more support you provide, the better the odds of success.

Define Clear Consequences

A PIP without consequences lacks teeth. The employee needs to understand what's at stake based on results.

Spell out clear consequences in the document, such as:

  • Lack of improvement after X days/weeks could result in demotion or termination
  • Meeting metrics will remove the employee from PIP status

Consequences drive accountability to execute the plan.

Set a Time Limit

PIPs are not meant to drag on endlessly. Set a clear end date aligned to the expectations. 30-90 days is common. Short enough to create urgency, long enough to demonstrate improvement.

Scheduling a meeting at the end date provides a natural forcing function for follow-up.

Document Everything

HR pros know documentation can make or break a PIP.

Thoroughly document every step, including:

  • The initial performance gap analysis
  • Goals/metrics outlined in the plan
  • Resources/support provided
  • Scheduled check-in conversations
  • Employee statements/responses

Meticulous docs protect you if the PIP goes off the rails.

Hold Regular Check-ins

Once the PIP starts, hold frequent check-ins to provide coaching and track progress.

Weekly 1:1's are common. Come prepared with data on metrics and specific examples to review.

Make check-ins a two-way conversation. Solicit feedback on what's working/not working in the plan.

Check-ins enable you to course correct vs waiting for the end date to assess.

Learn and Improve

After a PIP concludes, reflect on what worked well and what didn't. Analyze the data to glean insights. What coaching approaches proved most effective? How could you improve goal setting? What resources made the biggest difference?

Capture learning and fine-tune your PIP process for the future. Success begets success.

Enlist AI to Streamline the Process

Creating and managing PIPs involves heavy admin work. AI tools like Supernormal can help lighten the load.

Supernormal provides AI-powered assistants who can:

  • Take notes in PIP meetings to free you up to listen and create a record of what was covered
  • Help document performance gaps and expectations
  • Transcribe check-in conversations for easy documentation

The right AI assistance takes PIP administration off your plate so you can focus on coaching.

In Closing

Performance improvement plans, when done well, can supercharge professional growth and productivity. Put in the work upfront to set clear expectations, get buy-in, and support real change. The investment will pay dividends across your team.

Now get out there and start improving performance!

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