Pulling people up on below par performance is vital. Not just because it’s essential to the organisation that everyone is pulling their weight, but because not addressing significant issues head on, isn’t helpful to employees either.

The problem, however, is that all too often, people come out of a performance review knowing that they are getting it wrong, but feeling confused about exactly how and what they need to change.

A clear performance improvement plan ensures there is clarity around what needs to shift in terms of attitudes or skills, and within what timescale a turn-around needs to happen.

Illustration of performance improvement plan

So what do you need to consider when putting together a solid plan that sets people up for success?

1. Be specific about what good performance looks like

If people don’t know what ‘good’ looks like, they will struggle to achieve it. Their job description may be woolly, with no clear outline of their core responsibilities. Equally, they may have an extremely wide remit, but little idea of which tasks need to be prioritised over others. In today’s fast-moving organisations, it’s also not uncommon for roles to change overnight, often leaving people bewildered about where their emphasis should lie. The foundation for a good performance improvement plan is to be overt about goals and priorities, and to revisit them on a regular basis. The individual needs to understand exactly what they need to focus on, what they need to achieve and what actions and behaviours will be valued by their manager.

2. Agree a timeline

Setting a clear timeline will give people focus and ensure that the situation doesn’t just meander on. Be realistic. If there are significant development needs, for example, progress isn’t going to happen overnight. Work with the individual to agree a timescale that they are happy with – preferably one that doesn’t put them under an unacceptable level of pressure, but ensures they will deliver as quickly as is feasible. Set dates for regular informal check-ins, so that you can assess progress and deal with any issues, as well as a final date for formal review.

3. Include relevant training

Lack of appropriate skills is often behind under-par performance. Maybe someone has been catapulted into a role for which they are not equipped. Or perhaps their skills have become out of date or overtaken by technological developments. If a skills deficit is a factor in poor performance, it’s only fair to provide training to help people close that gap. If appropriate, make training part of the performance improvement plan – and ensure that any development that has been agreed actually gets delivered. All too often development is promised, but due to pressures of work or budget constraints, fails to materialise.

4. Offer on-going support

No-one likes to be told they need to pull their socks up. For some people, the feedback may have come as a bit of a shock, or may have left them feeling resentful or unfairly singled out. When you’re drawing up a performance improvement plan, it’s important to make sure the employee knows you actively want them to succeed. Make it clear you have their back and will be there to offer support and a listening ear along the way. Drawing up a plan in conjuction with the employee, rather than imposing something on them from on high, is always going to be more successful. If people feel they are part of the process, they are much more likely to be committed to it.

Read more about how to deal with difficult performance reviews

5. Be ready with next steps

If it’s been put together well, your performance improvement plan should have been successful and the employee in question will have raised their game. If that doesn’t happen, however, you need to be clear about what will happen next. Does the issue need to be escalated? Is there a need to get others involved? What is the company’s disciplinary procedure and under what circumstances will it be invoked. Make sure you are clear about the process – but that the employee is also clear that there will be consequences if their performance fails to improve.

Discover how you can get more out of performance reviews with the Cezanne HR Performance module.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.