Guide to Employee Performance Improvement Plans

By Adam Turner.
18 May 2023

If one of your employees is underperforming, it can lead to a tricky conversation where you’ll find yourself talking to the employee about the causes and issues.

Whilst it can be an awkward conversation, it needs to be had. This is especially true if it's affecting the productivity of the other team members and the wider business.

In these instances, you can put your employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP) to help tackle the root cause of the problem head-on. These are designed to encourage and develop underperforming employees.

If you need immediate advice on this issue don't hesitate to contact one of your Croner Experts here.

an employee on an performance improvement plan, and a personal improvement plan.

What is a performance improvement plan?

A performance improvement plan or performance review is exactly what it says on the tin. It's a formal document that outlines the existing performance gaps and issues within the business.

This document will also cover the goals that you put in place to help improve performance in the long and short term.. There are multiple ways that you can measure the success of the performance plan, such as regular check-ins with employees, training sessions, improved interaction with clients and stopping certain types of behaviour.

It's important to remember that performance goals outlined in a performance improvement plan can be for the employer and the employee.

An employee's manager talking about performance improvement tools and their employee's progress.

Why would an employee need a performance improvement plan?

There are many reasons why you could put an employee on a performance improvement plan. It's important to remember that just because an employee is on a performance improvement plan, it doesn't mean that they aren't putting in effort or working hard enough.

In some cases, it could be because an employee hasn't been trained properly or been inducted effectively into a part of the business, or if they are returning to work after a long period of time off.

As an employer, you should work out what is causing the performance issues. This could be from one of the following (although this isn't an exhaustive list).


An employee's performance might have dropped because they are struggling with their wellbeing from their life outside of work. In these cases ensure you speak to your employee before implementing a performance improvement plan. It could be beneficial to discuss an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) to help with any wellbeing issues.


No employer wants to hear that their employees don't feel appreciated at work, but this can cause an employee to perform poorly. Implementing reward schemes will help boost employees' morale and help you avoid implementing a performance improvement plan. Regular performance appraisals and one-to-ones are also hugely beneficial in giving you the chance to recognise any underlying issues before they manifest into a bigger performance problem.

You can download a free appraisal form template here.

Office Culture

Anything can disrupt the culture of your business. Whether that's a merger or someone leaving, it can leave employees feeling demoralised and unproductive. If you've started to notice a shift, take the time to speak to the team and see if you can reach a resolution before putting in place a performance improvement plan.

employers looking at a performance improvement plan template, discussing performance management tools.

When should a performance improvement plan be implemented?

A performance improvement plan should be used when you notice a consistent change in your employee's performance, or if they start to act inappropriately. For example, if they are consistently late for work, or if the employee fails to meet deadlines.

The performance improvement plan should address the issues and provide a way for the employee and employer to solve them, and improve the overall performance of the employee.

How to create an effective performance improvement plan

When you've decided to implement an employee performance improvement plan, it's important that you create and document an effective path that will help your employee's performance improve.

We've put together some of the elements you should look at when structuring performance improvement plans.

Have a conversation with your struggling employee

Have an open conversation with your employees. Before a performance improvement plan is put in place, you should talk to the employee in question.

When you speak to your employee about their performance improvement plan, it's important to highlight the benefits of the plan. Ensuring you have a positive attitude will help your employee become more comfortable with the plan.

This will help turn the plan into a self-improvement plan, and encourage employees to engage with the performance improvement plan.

Speaking to your employees about their poor performance will help you to identify where an employee's stress is coming from. This will help you put together a more effective performance improvement plan.

When you know this, you can help your employee more effectively. Crafting a plan that will address the issue will help improve the work environment for all your employees.

Create measurable objectives

When you're putting together your performance improvement plans you should define acceptable performance and create measurable objectives.

Knowing this will help you create a performance improvement plan that will help the personal growth of your employee. The goals you decide on don't have to be number-related (number of sales, phone calls made, etc.) they can be anything from meeting deadlines to improving the quality of their work or reducing their absenteeism objectives.

After the end goal has been decided, you then need to put in place how your employee is going to reach their goal. This could be done by setting smaller targets each week that slowly increase over a period of time until they have reached the end goal.

employers going through performance improvement plan examples, and looking at other performance management tools.

Support your employee's

Throughout the duration of the performance improvement plan, you should ensure that you are checking in regularly with your employees.

This will make it easier to check that the entire process is effective and monitor your employee's performance. Throughout these check-ins, you can get feedback from your employees on the PIP process. This will help you improve the entire process and make it more effective.

You should ensure that your employee has clear expectations of what is expected of them throughout the plan.

This will help them feel more comfortable and boost productivity, as they will be less stressed and worried that they aren't meeting expectations.

Throughout the PIP process, you should offer your employees additional resources and training, this will help them develop their skills and an overall improved performance. This will also help you to provide guidance for your employee.

Performance review and the effectiveness of the plan

Throughout the plan, you should sit down with your employee to review whether the plan is effective. This conversation should include the employee's input on what is working and importantly, what isn't working.

Here you can implement additional training, and look at the objectives outlined to give your employee more clarity.

When you have completed the performance reviews you should go through the results with the employee, and look at ways that they can be improved.

Advantages of a performance improvement plan

PIPs can encourage your employee to take ownership of their performance at work and take action to improve. Depending on the employee's attitude to the plan, it can make their performance stronger than their counterparts.

If the employee doesn't improve and their employment is terminated, a PIP can reduce your risk of facing litigation as you will have a documented process of how you've tried to help your employee improve.

Disadvantages of a performance improvement plan

As with anything, there are a few disadvantages of a performance improvement plan. One of which can be an uncomfortable conversation with your employee when you first bring up putting them on a PIP. It's important to remember that once this conversation is over, you can focus on helping your employee improve.

After an employee is put on a PIP plan, you run the risk of them thinking that they are on their last chance before their employment is terminated, and might not be willing to take on any feedback. In these cases, reassure your employee that the plan is to help them improve.

an employer talking about their employees job performance and job satisfaction

Speak to an expert

If you are having issues with an employee's performance, or how to take disciplinary action, get in touch with one of our experts for advice.

Croner has a team of award-winning, HR professionals and consultants who are specialists in their field. We've been helping businesses for over 80 years and our advice line is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Why not speak to a Croner expert on 0800 470 2838


About the Author

Adam has been with Croner Reward for 3 years. He has over 15 years’ experience working with various organisations and sectors. He has a strong passion, breadth and depth for job evaluation and salary benchmarking. He has a strong customer focused work ethic, ensuring clients always get the best possible outcome for their organisations from their Reward Projects.