Managing Performance Challenges



Skillbuilder 1: Creating a Performance Plan

You’ve provided clear expectations to your employee, and given them regular feedback, but they’re still not consistently meeting your expectations. One option is to create a performance improvement plan (PIP). A PIP is a tool for employee development, not discipline: its role is to formally set expectations and create a written plan when there is a performance gap and verbal coaching has not been successful.


Table of Contents

  1. Start Here: Resources for You

  2. Writing the Performance Improvement Plan

  3. Presenting the PIP to your employee

  4. Managing the PIP process


Use the tabs above to navigate through the sections of this skillbuilder.

Start Here: Resources for You

Download these resources to your desktop to guide you through the process. Make sure to come back to this page each time you use the PIP process for the most updated forms and information!


Performance Management Process Map.png


Creating a Performance Improvement Plan

See all of the steps all in one place in this handy one-pager!

Performance Improvement Plan Template

Use this user-friendly form to write your PIP.

Writing the Performance Improvement Plan

Your first step is to meet with your Human Resources Business Partner. They will help guide you through the process of drafting your plan, and then later on, help you with presenting it to your employee and coaching them through the process.


Once you’ve had your meeting with your business partner to discuss the issue, and you’ve decided that a PIP is the way to go, it’s time to write the form.  Download the template above and get started!


Deciding on a Timeline

Most performance improvement plans last 90 days, with the expectation that the employee will show considerable improvement at 30 days, and sustain it at 60 and 90 days. The duration of the plan depends on the severity of the issue: if it is a very serious issue that has a major impact on your business, you might require improvement faster.


Enter the anticipated date of the initial meeting with your employee to go over the PIP, and make a note of the dates of the 30, 60, and 90 day follow ups.


Explaining the Issue: Tasks, Skills and Behaviors

This section is where you clearly articulate what needs to change in your employee’s performance to meet your expectations. The form allows you to input up to three discrete areas for improvement. If you have more than three, talk with your business partner about how best to proceed. It’s hard for an employee to meaningfully focus on more than three areas at once, and with the PIP, you want to set your employee up for success.


Name the task, skill or behavior that does not yet meet expectations. Then, write a brief paragraph that describes your employee’s current performance, and their expected performance, in this area. When writing this section, use descriptive language and tangible measures. Your employee can’t read your mind, so you need to explain to them what success “looks like”. How will you know if their performance has improved? Be extremely specific about what you’re looking for so that even someone with no knowledge of the situation could read your document, observe your employee, and tell you whether they were meeting expectations.


Some resources to help you:

  • Behavioral Anchors from HRWeb can help give you language for what “meeting expectations” looks like in several areas of performance

  • Student Affairs Behavioral Anchors may also help with division-specific language

  • Your employee’s job description may also contain language that you can pull directly to articulate what they are expected to accomplish in their role

Presenting the PIP to Your Employee

Now that you’ve got your thoughts on paper, send your completed form to your business partner for review. They can help you make sure that your descriptions are clear enough that your employee will understand the issue, and what they need to improve. Once you and your business partner have signed off, you can present the plan to your employee and get the process started.


Preparing for the conversation

Any time you have to give critical feedback, it can be a challenge, so spend a bit of time preparing what you’re going to say, and thinking about how you’ll respond if your employee is not receptive to your feedback. Check out the Communicating with Transparency and Integrity module for more resources on having difficult conversations.


Here are some things to think about:

  • How might your employee be feeling about this feedback? How can you present the information in a way that feels collaborative and supportive, rather than punitive?

  • How does your employee usually respond to critical feedback? Are they likely to be defensive, or deny that there’s an issue? How will you respond to those issues?


Having the Conversation

  1. Start by clearly explaining the issue, current performance, and expected performance so that you and your employee are on the same page.

  2. Ask if they have any questions, or have any information that they need to share so that you fully understand what their performance looks like from their perspective.

  3. Talk about what they need in order to meet your expectations. Information? Training? Help re-prioritizing their tasks? You can take notes on your and your employee’s suggestions in the PIP template. Make sure that you agree on which suggestions you are going to prioritize during the PIP.

  4. Thank them for the conversation. Let them know that you want them to be successful, and you believe that they can be.

  5. Both you and the employee should sign and date the “acknowledgement of initial conversation” boxes in the template.

Managing the PIP process

30, 60 and 90 Day Check Ins

Depending up the length of the PIP, there will could be up to three formal check ins: one each at 30, 60, and 90 days. At each of these touchpoints, you and your employee should check in on how their performance has changed so far. (Of course, more frequent “informal” check ins are encouraged.)


The check in should cover:

  1. Your observations about the employee’s performance so far. Are they making strides forward? Again, use specific, descriptive language to share what you’re observing. Use some of the language from what you wrote in the PIP template.

  2. Your employee’s perceptions of their efforts so far. Might they be making strides you’re not seeing? Do they feel like they’re gaining more skill and confidence, even if it’s not yet reflected in their performance? These are good things to take into account (however, the ultimate indicator of success is whether their performance actually improves).

  3. What resources or support your employee has accessed. Using the next steps you decided on in your initial conversation, keep track of which your employee has utilized (and make sure that you have provided the resources you agreed to!). Here are some examples:

    1. On the job training

    2. Shadowing another employee

    3. Completing an online or in person training

    4. Reading a book or article about the skill

  4. Is your employee on track to meet expectations by the end of the PIP timeline? If your employee is stagnating, or moving backwards, loop in your business partner to help decide how to move forward. In most cases, you should complete the full performance improvement plan before moving on to other options in the performance management process.


Write down your notes from these check ins in the PIP template, and again, you and your employee should both sign and date the form.


During the PIP, you should also increase the frequency of your regular check ins and feedback. Provide your employee with as many opportunities as possible to receive your coaching and input.


Closing out the PIP Process

At the end of the timeline, usually 90 days, you need to make a decision about whether your employee has sufficiently improved to meet your expectations. Keep in mind that end goal: meeting expectations. They don’t need to be knocking it out of the park yet, but they need to be consistently achieving acceptable levels of performance.


At the bottom of the PIP template, you can record your decision in the “Outcome” section. Note whether the employee was successful or not. If the employee is almost there, you can also extend the PIP to give them a little more time to solidify their improved performance.


Provide some notes in this section to explain further. Referring back to the original Expected Performance sections for each task, skill, or behavior, note whether your employee is now consistently able to exhibit performance at that level. Then, convey that decision to your employee. Since you’ve had check ins regularly through the process, your decision should not come as a surprise to them.


What’s Next?

If your employee was not successful, the next step may be to start the progressive discipline process. Meet with your business partner to explore the best way to move forward.

If your employee successfully completed the PIP, that’s great! Congratulate them on their hard work, and talk about ways to help them sustain their performance.