Sometimes, employees fail to meet expectations. Experience limitations, unexpected challenges, and personal circumstances can all contribute to underperformance.
When this happens with remote employees, it can be more challenging to address due to the lack of in-person interaction. They can take written feedback the wrong way or feel isolated. A performance improvement plan can provide a structured way for them to get back on track.
So here’s how to create a performance improvement plan that will get your remote employees back to meeting and exceeding expectations.
What Is a Performance Improvement Plan?
A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a formal document managers use to outline an employee’s performance issues and set specific goals, milestones, and timelines for improvement.
It is a planned sequence of steps an employee should take to improve their job performance. A PIP usually follows when less formal attempts to address current performance issues have been unsuccessful.
The purpose of a PIP is twofold:
- Guide the employee: It provides the employee with a clear and structured plan that outlines what areas need improvement and what success looks like. With this guidance, employees can focus their efforts on specific achievable goals, helping them to overcome their performance deficits.
- Protect the company: From a legal perspective, a PIP can be documentation that you took steps to help an employee improve before moving to termination. This can help ensure that employment decisions are fair and can be defended if questioned by the employee or legal entities.
In these situations, clear communication is critical. A PIP ensures you and the employee understand what is expected and what can happen if those expectations are unmet.
Benefits of Creating a Performance Improvement Plan
Implementing a PIP comes with several benefits that support the struggling employee, the team, and the organization.
A PIP provides a formal framework that clarifies what is expected from the employee. It outlines the specific areas where improvement is needed and breaks down complex expectations into manageable goals.
This detailed approach ensures the employee understands what they need to achieve and by when—removing any ambiguity that could hinder their attempts to improve. An in-depth performance plan will include success benchmarks, offering remote employees a clear standard against which they can measure their progress.
PIPs also formalize a support system where managers and HR professionals can make remote employees feel like part of the team. The plan can include scheduled video check-ins and specific resources available to the employee, such as:
- Training sessions
- Mentorship opportunities
- Counseling services
With a structured support system behind them, they won’t feel alone while navigating performance issues. This can be especially beneficial in a remote work environment—as it’s been suggested that over a third of workers feel isolated and lonely when working remotely.
A PIP is crucial documentation that records the employee’s performance issues and the organization’s response. It details the steps to facilitate improvement, which can be essential during audits, performance reviews, and potential legal disputes.
By having documentation, you can demonstrate due diligence and compliance with employment laws, showing that the underperforming employee received a fair chance to improve before any disciplinary actions (such as termination) were taken.
Employee development and retention
When structured correctly, a PIP is not merely a prelude to dismissal but a genuine opportunity for remote employee development. It can be a tool that helps them gain new skills, improve their work habits, and elevate their career paths.
Not only does this benefit the employees themselves, but it also fosters a company culture of growth, leading to higher remote employee retention rates as staff see you genuinely investing in their potential and success.
How To Create and Implement an Effective Employee Performance Improvement Plan
Creating and implementing a PIP should be a systematic process that involves thoughtful preparation, clear communication, and ongoing support. Here are the steps to take when developing a PIP for a remote employee:
1. Conduct performance review
Before approaching the employee, it’s important to gather facts by carrying out a performance review. Document specific instances of poor performance, including dates, deliverables that were not met, or other qualitative measures that reflect the employee’s struggles.
This information will provide a foundation for the PIP and help to pinpoint exactly where improvements are needed.
2. Define clear, achievable objectives
The goals set out in the PIP should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). The employee must understand what success looks like and that the expectations are realistic within the given timeframe.
For instance, rather than saying, “Improve sales numbers,” specify, “Increase sales by 15% over the next quarter.” This specific, measurable goal gives the employee a clear objective to work toward.
3. Develop an action plan
Create an action plan for each objective that maps out how the employee can achieve the goal. This might include additional training, adjustment of workload, or using new tools to help with remote working.
Identify which resources you will provide and any actions the employee is expected to take independently.
4. Communicate clearly and professionally
When presenting the PIP, it’s crucial to be clear about the plan, its purpose, and its implications. This conversation should ideally occur over a video call to simulate a face-to-face meeting.
Express empathy, be supportive, and be firm about your expectations. It’s important to foster an open dialogue where the employee feels understood and that they have a voice in the process.
5. Offer support and resources
Make sure that the employee knows what resources are available to them and encourage them to take advantage of these. Resources can make a significant difference in the improvement process, whether it’s mentoring, training materials, or software that could aid their performance.
6. Schedule regular check-ins
One of the challenges of remote work is reduced day-to-day interaction, which can lead to feelings of isolation, especially when an employee is struggling. It is essential to schedule regular one-on-one meetings to review progress toward milestones, address challenges, and give constructive feedback.
A consistent schedule for these checkpoints will keep the employee connected and accountable.
7. Assess the outcome
At the end of the PIP period, assess whether the employee has met the goals set out in the plan. If so, it can be a great time to celebrate the employee’s progress, which can positively impact their ongoing productivity and morale.
If the goals have not been met, it may be necessary to consider further steps, including additional training or, in some cases, moving toward termination.
What Should Be Included in a Performance Improvement Plan To Make It Effective?
An effective PIP needs several key components to ensure the employee and management have a clear roadmap to improved performance.
- Performance review: Detail the areas that require improvement with clear examples and evidence.
- Expected performance standards: Clearly define performance expectations—they should be attainable and fair given their role.
- Action plan: A step-by-step guide for the employees on achieving the plan’s goals. It should include available resources and technology.
- Timeline: A realistic timeline with regular review intervals provides enough time for the employee to genuinely improve without putting you at further risk.
- Potential outcomes: Describe the consequences of the success and failure of the PIP.
- Signatures: If possible, every PIP needs to be reviewed and signed by the employee, their manager, and an HR representative to create a transparent paper trail. (Plenty of options are available for getting digital signatures from remote workers.)
Including these elements in a PIP sets clear expectations and builds a structured and support-driven path to help employees improve their performance.
When used correctly, a PIP can help employees grow and succeed. It can, however, lead to a different challenge—termination.
If poor performance continues, you’ll need to approach the situation with grace, compassion, and an understanding of the nuances involved. For guidance, we invite you to read our article on firing independent contractors, which provides insights and best practices to handle these delicate situations professionally and legally.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can you terminate an employee while implementing a PIP?
Yes, if there is a serious violation or if it becomes evident that the employee cannot meet the performance goals. However, approach termination with caution. Legal counsel may be necessary to ensure it complies with labor laws.
How long should a PIP last?
The length of a PIP can vary, but typically, it should last anywhere from 30 to 90 days. This allows enough time for the employee to demonstrate their ability to improve and meet the performance objectives set out in the plan.
Are there any negatives to implementing a performance improvement plan?
While PIPs are generally constructive, they can have some negatives. Employees may feel stressed or demoralized if they perceive the PIP as a step toward termination rather than an opportunity for growth. Be as transparent and supportive as possible to avoid this.
Implementing a PIP can sometimes affect team dynamics, especially if the process is not handled discreetly. Colleagues may become aware of the PIP, leading to tension and a negative atmosphere. Knowledge of the PIP should be on a strictly need-to-know basis.
Can you include employee attitude and behavior details in an employee performance improvement plan?
Certainly, addressing employee attitude and behavior is a crucial aspect of a PIP. While most PIPs focus on specific tasks or job-related skills, it’s essential to recognize and address behavioral aspects that may impact overall performance.
Remember to explain how the identified behaviors affect job performance or team dynamics. And clearly communicate the desired behavioral changes. Use constructive language that focuses on the positive outcomes of the expected changes. For example, if punctuality is an issue, specify the expectation as “arriving on time for all scheduled meetings and work hours.”