How to Write a Performance Improvement Plan with Examples 📈

  • Tips for Hiring
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Learn the ins and outs of performance improvement plans, including examples, why they’re vital, and when to use them. Also, discover how to write them.

Hiring and collaborating with Independents brings fresh perspectives and agility to any project. But ensuring both parties sail smoothly toward shared objectives can sometimes require more than just expertise. Enter the power of a performance improvement plan (PIP). 

In this guide, we’ll discuss PIPs, their benefits and disadvantages, and how to create them. We’ll also take you through a few examples and FAQs to make things clearer.

What is a PIP? 🤔

A PIP is a document that highlights where an employee or an Independent lacks and what strategies the manager intends to take to improve their performance. Its primary objective is to facilitate a structured and supportive environment for individuals to understand the areas they need to improve, paired with actionable steps to achieve desired outcomes. Typically, the manager sends this document to human resources (HR), who would monitor the deadlined objectives (usually 30, 60, or 90 days). 

The PIP consists of a few key elements:

  • Clear identification of issues
  • Objective performance benchmarks
  • Actionable steps
  • Support and resources
  • Timelines
  • Consequences

Why are PIPs important? 🧐

Sometimes, people don’t know when they are doing something wrong or what they should be focusing on to improve. PIPs help develop a growth mindset rather than a culture of “you’ll be fired if you underperform.” The transparent expectations of what must be worked on allow employees or Independents to focus on specific areas. Furthermore, PIPs give them a clear roadmap of what they should do to improve and reduce the idea of overall improvement into strategic, manageable steps. 

When to implement a PIP ⌚

A PIP is best implemented when there's a noticeable and consistent gap between expected performance and the current output of an Independent or employee. This could arise from a lack of clarity, inadequate skills, or other external factors affecting performance. Before jumping to conclusions, clients or managers should communicate concerns, gather insights, and determine if a PIP is appropriate. Often, it's used when other informal feedback mechanisms haven't yielded the desired results, ensuring a last-resort structured approach to drive improvement. 

Benefits and drawbacks of PIPs ✅

People use PIPs as a go-to tool to address performance discrepancies within talent management. And yes, PIPs help employees improve, but not without potential pitfalls. Here are the primary advantages and disadvantages of implementing a PIP:

Benefits 👍

  • Clear communication: PIPs help employees and Independents feel more secure in their employment by knowing their managers or clients are there to help them improve if they fall behind, leading to increased productivity and a happier, healthier work environment. 
  • Objective feedback: By detailing specific improvement areas, PIPs move away from subjective criticisms and towards constructive, actionable feedback, reducing misunderstandings. 
  • Consistency and fairness: Implementing a PIP ensures performance issues are addressed consistently across the board, maintaining a sense of fairness and transparency in the evaluation process. 

Drawbacks 👎

  • Potential demotivation: If not handled delicately, a PIP can be perceived as punitive rather than supportive, leading to decreased morale and motivation.
  • Strained relations: The process might push the relationship between both parties, especially if there's a perception of bias or lack of trust.
  • Possible misuse: In some instances, PIPs might be misused as a tool to justify premeditated decisions, like contract termination, rather than genuinely seeking performance improvement. 

Performance improvement plan examples 📚

To give you a better idea of what an employee improvement plan looks like in action, here are two work performance improvement examples covering different issues. You can even consider these as a PIP template to seek inspiration before writing your own.

1. PIP example for communication enhancement 🗣️

Objective: To improve communication (written and video-based) with clients regarding projects and updates.

Problem: Many clients have been complaining about being left in the dark about updates regarding projects. Clients have also complained they have suggestions they want to be implemented but have no one to communicate with. 

Action plan:

  • Attend a communication skills workshop.
  • Use provided project management software to communicate with clients in real time.
  • Set up and attend weekly virtual meetings with active clients.

Timeline: Attend the workshop within 30 days, and schedule Zoom meetings for all clients for the rest of the month by the end of next week.

Check-ins: Every Monday at 3 p.m. for the next 12 weeks.

Metrics: Tracking scheduled and attended meetings, and overseeing communication using project management software.

Consequences: Failure to improve client communication after 12 weeks will result in termination.  

2. PIP example for feedback incorporation 📑

Objective: To better understand feedback and incorporate it based on client needs. 

Problem: The Independent has been struggling to acknowledge the client’s feedback, and the submitted iterations lack basic changes.

Action plan:

  • Set up a feedback session post the first draft to understand client needs better.
  • Attend an online course on client communication and feedback management.
  • Use annotation tools for clearer feedback understanding.

Timeline: Complete the online course within a month, and review progress after three projects.

Check-ins: A meeting every Monday for the next two weeks to discuss work and the related issue.

Metrics: Reviewing submitted designs for feedback incorporation.

Consequences: Failure to improve feedback management will result in contract termination.

How to write a performance improvement plan ✍️

Now that you’ve seen a performance improvement plan at work, you’ve likely realized it's actually quite simple to write one. Here are the four key steps to get started:

1. Identify the problem 🔎

PIPs are required when a freelancer or employee fails to deliver in a specific area, which must be clearly stated. Determine an acceptable standard that they should reach, and avoid being vague.

2. Set measurable objectives 📏

Similar to identifying the problem, be explicit about what needs to be done. For example, if more research is required to create in-depth articles, say, "link 6–10 references for each article," or "link statistics or quotes." This will force the Independent to better research the topic. It will also help them understand the expectations. 

3. Outline supportive action steps 🫶

To make the freelancer or employee feel valued, detail the resources and support you offer. You must also provide check-in dates to allow them to voice concerns, opinions, or suggestions. 

4. State consequences ⚡

Assisting the freelancer or employee to improve is significant, but there must be ramifications if the behavior goes unchanged. Clearly state what will happen if there is no improvement. 

FAQs about performance improvement plans 🌟

How long should a PIP last? ⏲️

It's recommended that you give an employee or freelancer about 12 weeks. This is usually enough time to include training, time to focus on improvement areas, and check-ins to discuss progress. 

What if there is improvement, but not enough? 🌿

If there is improvement after some time, but not enough, it indicates that the person is trying, but something is preventing faster progress. You could reassess the goals to see if they are realistic. You might need to offer additional support or even reevaluate your initial action plan, as it might not be effective.

Is a PIP a disciplinary action? 📜

While it might seem like one, a PIP is a learning opportunity to improve before disciplinary action. PIPs focus on an employee's development and are meant to be constructive, not overly negative. They should be viewed as a plan for success rather than a formality before termination. 

Master people management with Contra 🧑‍🎓

When clients and Independents come together, they create synergies to drive innovation, flexibility, and unparalleled results. However, effective collaboration requires a deep understanding and clear communication. And PIPs are just one of the many tools to ensure this harmony. 

If you’re keen on building a freelance network that helps you achieve your business goals, join Contra's Project OS to manage your remote team and efficiently track your projects' progress. Similarly, vetted talent is only a few clicks away if you want to hire top Independents in their respective industries. Join Contra today.

How to Write a Freelance Contract 📃

Master freelance contract essentials, ensure respectful collaborations, and set clear terms with Independents with this helpful guide.

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