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A Brief Guide to Writing a Performance Improvement Plan (+Template)

A Brief Guide to Writing a Performance Improvement Plan (+Template)

When an individual’s performance at work isn’t up to expectation, it negatively affects not only them but their teammates, their internal and external customers, and you, their leader, as well. As such, it is your responsibility to initiate a difficult conversation about what you’re witnessing, outlining the issues and the impact these issues are having, and then utilizing the appropriate performance management tools to correct them.

One popular tool many leaders rely on in this type of situation is a performance improvement plan. The following article will review what this is and why it’s important before providing you with a performance improvement plan template. Let’s begin. 


What Is a Performance Improvement Plan?

By definition, a performance improvement plan is a formal document created for individuals who are not meeting agreed-upon performance standards in one or more areas of their role. The document should explicitly state the specific performance issue(s), steps for improvement, and a timeline with pre-determined checkpoints. It should be collaboratively written by an individual and their direct supervisor, though HR may sometimes be involved in the process. 


Have Better Performance Conversations with the Performance Management Toolkit.   >>


Are Performance Improvement Plans Important in 2023?

Gone are the days when performance management was regimented and clinical. Today’s workforce isn’t okay with waiting months to connect with their leader and find out where they stand regarding their performance. They value their professional development and growth for that to be acceptable. Today, a more holistic, human, organic, and collaborative approach to performance and progress at work is the goal.

So, despite all the changes that have and continue to happen in performance management, performance improvement plans are still necessary. In fact, when used correctly, these plans help guide performance-related conversations and make a challenging topic more manageable to all parties involved. Moreover, the process of writing a performance improvement plan together can open up the doors for coaching, strengthen relationships, and build trust.



What To Include in a Performance Improvement Plan

For a performance improvement plan to actually result in improved performance, it needs to be specific and detailed so that there is no question about what is expected. Therefore, to ensure no critical details are omitted, here are the elements to include in a performance improvement plan:

  • Performance Issue(s): Address the observed performance issue(s) and how they have resulted in negative consequences.  If possible, provide examples to illustrate the point.
  • Expected Performance Standard: Reiterate the expected performance standards and provide documentation of those standards, if available. Plan for Improvement with
  • Steps: Identity what needs to happen for performance to improve and break it down into actionable steps.
  • Timeline: Select a date when the steps for improvement must be completed by and the individual's performance will be re-evaluated. If the timeline is over several weeks or months, select dates for check-ins on progress will occur.
  • Consequences: Outline specific consequences that will occur if the expected performance standard is not met in the defined timeline.


Performance Improvement Plan Template from Niagara Institute

How To Write a Performance Improvement Plan with a Template

Whether you have never had to write a performance improvement plan or do not have a template to work off of, it can be challenging to know exactly where to start. Fortunately, we’ve removed that barrier by creating a performance improvement plan template for you to work off of and make your own in Google Docs or Microsoft Word.


3 Tips for Using a Performance Improvement Plan Template

Now that you have a performance improvement plan template, here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re ready to begin filling it in.

1. It Shouldn’t Be a Surprise

Before writing a performance improvement plan, a direct leader should have an informal conversation with an individual regarding their concerns about their poor performance. That way, if the situation gets to the point where formal documentation is needed, the individual already has an idea of the problems and is not entirely caught off guard. If that happens, people can become defensive and less coachable, which makes writing a performance improvement plan more difficult than it already is.

2. Keep It Positive

The process of writing a performance improvement plan doesn’t have to feel like punishment. After all, it is a warning meant to bring attention to a problem, facilitate change, and make it clear that it is fixable, so long as the individual is willing to do the necessary work. 

3. Make It Collaborative

Rather than telling an individual about their performance issues and sending them off to write an improvement plan alone, make it a collaborative effort. By writing it with them, you can provide invaluable coaching and feedback. Not to mention, when people feel like they’re part of crafting the solution to a problem, they feel more accountable for seeing it through. 

Performance Management Toolkit PDF for Leaders

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