How to Write a Great Performance Improvement Plan

There was a time in my life when I worked in HR and people asked me to write performance improvement plans for a living.

I would be like — Is it 1963? Am I your secretary? And do I look like I know anything about your jacked up employee?

But, more importantly, I have no idea why people want to write stuff down like amateurs. When you write it down, you have to defend it. And it’s not like a well-written document ever beat a lawyer.

You never beat the lawyers. The only way to win is to steer clear of them. Once you have to explain yourself, you’ve already lost.

10 steps to your next great PIP

So here are my 10 steps to writing a great performance improvement plan.

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  • Step 1: Talk to the worker who has issues. Use your words.
  • Step 2: Speak openly and clearly about the issues at hand. Be kind, but don’t mince words.
  • Step 3: Lay out expectations. Let the person know that you’re not some chump who will put up with an ongoing, 30-day rolling performance improvement plan. This ends now.
  • Step 4: Look internally. Ask yourself, who hired this person in the first place? If it was you, accept some accountability. If it was someone else, get a fast read on why this person is working for you.
  • Step 5: Uh, yeah. Notice we haven’t sent an email or written anything down yet? We don’t write shit down.
  • Step 6: Notice the employee doesn’t have any documentation in her file? We don’t do personnel files, anymore.
  • Step 7: Notice how steps 1-4 were all about talking and thinking and reflecting? Do you really need HR for this?
  • Step 8: This step is all about me rolling my eyes at you.
  • Step 9: Fine, OK. We can still talk about performance improvement plans. Maybe you need to fire this person. Maybe you don’t. If you’ve been kind and fair, you’ll know right away if this will work out. Tell me again why you want to document this and send a note via email?
  • Step 10: There are two paths, buddy.
    • Path 1: If you can see a way forward for the employee, be a decent human being and offer it. Don’t write a PIP. Spend one-on-one time with that employee. Be a mentor, not an asshole.
    • Path 2: If there’s no future for this worker, cut quickly and spend the money to make it right.

If you’re truly at the point of writing a performance improvement plan, you’re at the end of an employment agreement.

So those are my recommendations on how to write a PIP. Got something better? Let me guess — is it in the cloud?

This was originally published on the Laurie Ruettimann blog.


Laurie Ruettimann (LFR) is a former Human Resources leader turned influential speaker, writer and strategist. She owns a human resources consultancy that offers a wide array of HR services to human resources leaders and executives. Check out her LinkedIn profile here. You may know Ruettimann as the creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR (retired), which Forbes named as a top 100 website for women. You may have also read her book, I AM HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR. (RepCap Press, 2014.) 


2 Comments on “How to Write a Great Performance Improvement Plan

  1. Sounds like someone’s bitter about having been placed on a PIP. This article would almost make sense if it acknowledged what the employer’s defense would be if the hypothetical employee used in steps 1-10 filed a wrongful termination or EEOC claim. We don’t live in world where common sense reigns supreme; instead, we’re caught in a bureaucracy filled with government agencies and judges who need PIPs if they’re ever going to side with an employer. The best advice is to skip this article.

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