woman sat on the floor with a laptop looking at a performance improvement plan

Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs): Mastering with Templates, Writing Guides, and Essential Insights

For many in the sales profession, the term “Performance Improvement Plans” (PIP) often rings alarm bells, suggesting a final step before potential firing. This reaction, while common, really does overlook the true intention and potential benefits of using PIPs, especially in sales—a field where performance directly impacts the bottom line and is incredibly easy to monitor. 

PIPs are designed not to be a gateway to dismissal (although many have been misused in this way!) but as a constructive framework aimed at growth, building better selling skills, and making sure that sales professionals not only meet but exceed their targets. It’s meant to be a win-win for both sales rep, and the business. 

Sales roles, with their clear performance metrics and high visibility within organizations, stand to benefit a lot from structured support and actionable objectives offered by a well-designed PIP.  In this guide we will try and dispel myths surrounding PIPs and highlight their role as solid tools for development and success in the competitive and results-driven worl of sale sales, especially in today’s remote or hybrid work environments.

Table of Contents

What Are Performance Improvement Plans?

PIPs are one of the main tools used by organizations to address and rectify employee performance issues. They serve as a formal, documented process created and designed to support employees in overcoming work-related challenges, aiming to improve performance to meet expected standards.

PIPs outline specific areas where an employee’s performance is lacking, set clear and achievable goals for improvement, and provide a timeline for achieving these objectives. They also include regular check-ins and feedback sessions to monitor progress and make adjustments as necessary. 

PIPs are meant to help in facilitating open and honest communication between employees and managers, ensuring that expectations are clear and aligned. By providing a laid out approach to addressing performance issues, PIPs help in preserving valuable talent that might otherwise be lost due to misunderstandings or lack of guidance. It can also identify where sales managers need to put emphasis on specific training modules and any areas where support could be lacking for that particular individual. In remote work environments, where physical distance can amplify communication challenges, this is really key as it’s not easy to see what’s happening in realt-time.

Using PIPs can benefit far beyond the individual employee. For the organization, PIPs contribute to a culture of accountability and continuous improvement. They also show a commitment to employee development and retention, which can enhance overall morale and reduce turnover rates. By spending time and effort on PIPs shows an amount of investment and an attitude of support towards a sales team.

For employees, being placed on a PIP offers a clear, objective plan for improvement, coupled with support from management, which can be a motivating factor for personal and professional growth.

 Ultimately, as long as they are executed effectively and prepared correctly with the right intentions, PIPs can transform potential exits into success stories. This reinforces that with the right support and guidance, underperforming employees can become valuable contributors to the team.

What Should Be In A Performance Improvement Plan?

A PIP comprises several key components that work together to guide an employee’s progress from underperformance to meeting and exceeding their job expectations. Understanding these components is essential for both new and experienced managers to effectively implement a PIP. Here’s a breakdown of the elements that make up a PIP:

Specific Areas for Improvement: The PIP begins with a clear identification of the specific performance areas that require improvement. These areas should be directly linked to the employee’s job responsibilities and the expectations outlined in their role description. It’s crucial that these areas are defined objectively and precisely to avoid any ambiguity.

Measurable Goals: For each area of improvement identified, the PIP must establish measurable goals that the employee is expected to achieve.

These goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Setting SMART goals ensures that progress can be quantitatively and qualitatively assessed. Here is a breakdown of how to create SMART goals.

Action Plan: The action plan outlines the steps the employee will take to achieve the identified goals. This may include training sessions, workshops, or specific tasks that will help improve their performance. The action plan should also specify any resources or support that the company will provide to assist the employee in their improvement efforts. This is really key because in order for an employee that is underperforming to make progress they need to be given the tools to make those changes. 

Timeline: A crucial component of the PIP is the timeline, which sets the duration of the plan. A typical PIP lasts between 30 and 90 days, providing a clear timeframe for achieving the set goals. The timeline helps keep both the employee and manager accountable and focused on the improvement process.

Monitoring and Feedback: Regular check-ins and feedback sessions are so important to the success of a PIP. These catch ups provide opportunities to review the employee’s progress, address any challenges, and make adjustments to the plan if necessary. Effective feedback is constructive and focuses on specific achievements and areas for further improvement.

Outcome Criteria: Finally, the PIP should clearly define the criteria for success, outlining what constitutes satisfactory performance improvement. It should also detail the consequences of failing to meet the PIP’s objectives, which might include further disciplinary action or, in some cases, termination.

How To Write a Performance Improvement Plan

Writing a plan requires a balance of clarity, specificity, and supportiveness to ensure that the employee not only understands the areas in need of improvement but also feels empowered to make those improvements. 

Here’s an approach that emphasizes empathy, clarity, and practicality in the crafting process:

Step 1: Begin with Empathy and Objectivity

Start the PIP with a tone of support and understanding. Acknowledge the employee’s contributions and affirm the company’s commitment to their growth and success. It’s crucial to approach the PIP from a place of wanting to help the employee succeed, rather than as a punitive measure. This sets a constructive tone for the document and the improvement process. Also, if a team member is underperforming they are likely hyper aware of this already, by reassuring them and using positive reinforcement they are likely to take any criticism more diplomatically, and with less defensiveness. 

Step 2: Detail Specific Performance Gaps

Use data and examples to detail where and how the employee’s performance is falling short. This should be done objectively, avoiding any language that could be interpreted as personal criticism. Instead, focus on the specific behaviors and results that need improvement. This clarity helps the employee understand the exact nature of the issues and what success looks like.

Step 3: Collaboratively Set Goals

Involve the employee in setting their improvement goals. This inclusive approach not only empowers the employee but also increases their commitment to achieving the set objectives. Ensure that these goals are SMART, and encourage the employee to voice their thoughts on what support they need to achieve them.

Step 4: Provide a Clear Action Plan

Outline a step-by-step action plan that includes both the responsibilities of the employee and the support commitments from the manager or organization. Specify any resources, training, or mentoring that will be provided. This plan should be realistic, allowing for meaningful progress within the PIP’s timeframe.

Step 5: Establish Checkpoints for Feedback and Adjustment

Define regular dates for reviewing progress, such as weekly calls and catch-ups. These should be times for open dialogue, allowing for adjustments to the plan as needed based on the employee’s progress and feedback.

Step 6: Define Outcomes Clearly

Clearly outline what the successful completion of the PIP looks like, as well as the potential consequences of not meeting the plan’s objectives. However, emphasize the organization’s desire for the employee to succeed and continue their contribution to the team.

By focusing on these steps a PIP should be a solid roadmap for constructive dialogue, actionable steps for improvement, and ultimately, a stronger, more engaged employee. This approach ensures the PIP is a tool for development, not discipline, reflecting modern management’s more nuanced and supportive role.

Performance Improvement Plan Templates

If you are still struggling with where to start when it comes to writing a PIP here we have linked a number of PIP templates. These templates should serve as a starting point for putting together a PIP that is both effective and tailored to your specific needs. 

ClickUp offers a comprehensive guide to PIPs, including free, downloadable templates. These templates are designed to be easily customizable, allowing you to adapt them to the unique circumstances of each employee’s performance improvement journey. They also provide a solid structure that covers all the essential components of a PIP, ensuring you don’t overlook any really important steps. Visit ClickUp for templates and more.

AIHR also provides a detailed PIP template that focuses on clarity, simplicity, and effectiveness. Their template is particularly useful for HR professionals and managers looking for a straightforward, step-by-step guide to support employees in need of performance improvement. Check out AIHR’s template here.

HiBob is based in the UK and provides an intuitive and easily adaptable PIP template, designed to meet the needs of modern workforces, including remote teams. Check out HiBob’s PIP template.

These templates are a great starting point for putting in place the strategies discussed. They offer a practical framework that you can customize to fit your needs, and the individual needs of your employees. When using these templates, remember to maintain a focus on clear communication, measurable objectives, and supportive feedback to maximize the effectiveness of your PIPs.

What Are The Challenges of Implementing PIPs Remotely?

Using PIPs for a sales team that is based remotely can provide a few hurdles that managers must cross with care and strategy. The physical distance can really make communication harder, make monitoring progress more complex, and potentially lead to feelings of isolation for the employee under the PIP. 

Here are a few things that may come up, with some ideas on how to work around them for maximum impact. 

1. Communication Barriers: Without the small signals that come up during face-to-face interaction, trying express empathy and support through a PIP can be difficult.
Solution: Use video calls for discussions related to the PIP to add a personal touch and ensure clarity. Regular, scheduled check-ins can help maintain open lines of communication.

2. Difficulty Monitoring Progress: Remote work can make it harder for managers to observe changes in an employee’s performance directly.
Solution: Implement digital tools and platforms that allow for transparent tracking of progress against goals. Encourage employees to share updates and challenges. Make sure that you let them know that you are implementing these tools to 

3. Maintaining Engagement and Motivation: Remote employees on a PIP may feel isolated or disconnected from the team, affecting their motivation.
Solution: Foster a virtual team environment that supports collaboration and inclusivity. Recognize improvements and achievements publicly to boost morale.

4. Providing Adequate Support: Identifying and delivering the right support resources can be more complex remotely.
Solution: Use online training resources and virtual mentorship programs. Ensure the employee knows how to access these resources and who to contact for help. Alternatively, using a tool such as tl;dv means that you can build up a library of sales calls that can be used as sales tools for the wider team. 

By addressing these challenges proactively, managers can create a supportive and effective remote PIP process. This approach not only aids in the employee’s improvement but also strengthens the remote team’s cohesion and productivity.

Using PIPs Effectively

PIPs are a core tool in the manager’s arsenal, designed not as a step towards termination but as a supportive path to employee success. Especially in remote work environments, where traditional supervisory methods are less effective, PIPs offer a clear approach to identify, address, and overcome performance challenges. The key to a successful PIP lies in clear communication, measurable goals, and consistent support and feedback.

Integrating tools like tl;dv can significantly enhance the PIP process in remote settings, ensuring clarity and accountability while saving time. By capturing and summarizing the essence of important discussions, tl;dv helps both managers and employees stay aligned on goals and progress, making the path to improvement clear and manageable.

As we’ve explored the importance, structure, and implementation strategies for PIPs, remember that the ultimate goal is to foster a culture of continuous improvement and support. 

We encourage managers and HR professionals to use the power of tl;dv to enhance their PIP processes, making them more effective and efficient. 

Why not download tl;dv today and use it to help support a significant step towards optimizing your remote performance improvement plans, ensuring that every employee has the opportunity to succeed and grow within your organization.

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