A woman seated in an office having a one-on-one meeting with a female employee.
In your one-on-one meeting with the employee, structure the conversation to learn more about why they are missing their performance targets. — Getty Images/10'000 Hours

A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a structured plan that is designed to support employees who are experiencing difficulty meeting performance standards and expectations. A PIP gives you and the employee a chance to work together to identify ways they can meet expectations.

Rather than viewing these plans as a punishment, it is important that employers and employees regard a PIP as an avenue for collaboratively removing barriers to achieve improved performance. With this in mind, here are some tips for managing an employee through their performance improvement road map.

Start by sitting down with the employee

A performance plan can be a helpful tool for both the manager (or business owner) and the employee. By kicking off the process with a dialogue about what’s working and what isn’t, both parties can be in agreement about the next steps. During the meeting, structure the conversation to learn more about why the employee is missing their performance targets.

“A PIP should include an element of self-reflection for the leader writing it, too. Before creating a PIP, leaders should check that their own actions haven’t inadvertently led to this moment,” wrote BetterUp.

This meeting is also the time to find the root causes of the problem. Keep in mind that the lack of productivity you’re seeing may not be the result of laziness or disengagement. It could be that an employee doesn’t have the right training, is dealing with a personal issue, or is getting distracted by other tasks. Allow your employee to describe why they think they aren’t performing to your standard.

[Read more: How to Talk to an Employee About Poor Performance]

Set clear and achievable goals

Next, make sure you both agree as far as the outcome of the PIP. How does the employee define success at the end of the evaluation period?

It helps to set one “big” goal in the PIP and then break down smaller outcomes that let the employee know that they’re on track. For example, your big goal could be that the employee is making a certain number of sales calls per week. An incremental goal could be to build a call list by week one.

The goals you set should be as transparent and clear as possible and tied to a specific time frame. Make sure goals are realistic, too, so that it doesn’t seem like you’re pushing the employee out the door.

It helps to set one 'big' goal in the PIP and then break down smaller outcomes that let the employee know that they’re on track.

Communicate and check in regularly

A PIP isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it exercise. It’s possible the employee will still struggle to hit their targets. Manage this probability by creating an open flow of communication and checking in regularly to see how you can support the employee.

“The goal of a PIP is to help employees to reach certain objectives, but it's just as important how they get there. Having them burnt-out or lacking in different aspects after ‘completing’ a PIP won't get you anywhere,” wrote Perkbox.

Schedule moments throughout the PIP timeline to evaluate how things are going. Work with the person’s direct manager to make sure that the lines of communication are open. The employee should feel like they can freely discuss any obstacles that come up.

[Read more: What Is a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)?]

Clarify the consequences of missed targets

The PIP should be a positive experience for everyone involved. Remember, it is an opportunity to help your team work better. However, there are unfortunate repercussions if your employee still can’t meet the desired outcomes.

“There needs to be pre-defined, clear and transparent consequences outlined at the beginning of the PIP process,” wrote PeopleGoal.

If there’s incremental improvement but not to the standard you’d hoped for, the next step is to discuss options such as further training or perhaps even reassignment. In the worst-case scenario, you may need to let this person go. The final step in a performance plan is to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and what can be done to move forward amicably.

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