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Guide to performance improvement plans

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If you have employee performance concerns, this model guide will help you to agree improvement plans for them to achieve and maintain the standards expected.

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What is a Guide to performance improvement plans?

Managers should ensure consistent and fair treatment for all and to assist any employee who is considered to be experiencing difficulties in performing satisfactorily the duties required of the post to which they were appointed.

Unfortunately occasionally an employee's performance does not always meet standards expected.

This guidance provides managers with a framework to improve an employees performance in the workplace, and includes the following steps:

  1. Setting the scene
  2. Jobholders view
  3. Managers view
  4. Resolution
  5. Summary of agreement
  6. Monitoring
Applicable legal jurisdictions
In which jurisdictions can this guide be used?
Great Britain & NI (United Kingdom), Worldwide

Guide to performance improvement plans

The purpose of the Performance Improvement process is to establish or clarify any cause(s) of an employee's underperformance and to agree a plan to try to improve it.

Setting the scene

Where you have concerns about performance a meeting should be organised. The meeting should be against a backdrop where the manager has already been giving regular feedback to the jobholder about their performance, including regarding aspects of the jobholder's performance which are not satisfactory.

Performance improvement plan - first meeting invitation - model letter

The meeting should take place in private, in an environment that is comfortable, non-threatening and away from interruptions or distractions. A representative from HR should be in attendance to take notes.

The manager should confirm that the jobholder has been offered to have a colleague or trade union rep with them in the meeting, and ask the jobholder to clarify whether they have accepted or declined the offer.

The manager should advise the jobholder that notes are being taken of the meeting; that a copy of the notes will be provided to him or her; and that the notes will not be copied to any other party. The manager should clarify that the purpose of the notes is to help both parties by providing a clear record of the meeting.

The manager carrying out the interview should begin the meeting by outlining to the jobholder the objectives of the Performance Improvement meeting.

These are:

  • to clarify what are the standards of performance which are expected of the jobholder, in the context of his or her Role Profile.
  • to clarify in what respects the jobholder has been meeting the required standards.
  • to clarify in what respects the jobholder has not been meeting the required standards.
  • to identify the causes of underperformance.
  • to agree a Performance Improvement Plan to assist the jobholder to improve his or her performance to the required standard, within a specified timeframe.
  • to ensure that the jobholder is aware that where satisfactory improvement is not achieved, consideration may be given to invoking the Disciplinary Procedure.

Jobholder's view

Having set the scene, the manager should invite the jobholder to express his or her own views on their performance.

The manager's approach to the rest of the meeting will be determined by what he or she learns in this part of the meeting. It is, therefore, important that the manager should adopt an open, non-judgemental stance and actively listen to what the jobholder is saying.

Where the jobholder is not offering specific causes for underperformance, the manager should be alert to cues which might suggest what the causes are.

The disclosed or suggested causes of underperformance are likely to fall into one of the following categories:

That there have been mitigating factors such as increased workload, workplace stress, bullying etc. which prevented the jobholder from performing to the required standard.

Where this happens the manager should seek guidance from HR. If a claim is later found to be unjustified then the manager can go back to the process of dealing with underperformance.

Lack of clear goals/expectations

Where this happens the manager should use this opportunity to clarify requirements and expectations, e.g. objectives, standards and priorities, provide adequate encouragement, guidance, support or information, and set reasonable or attainable objectives and standards. It is also important for jobholders to recognise that they too have a responsibility to seek clarification from their manager regarding goals/expectations.

Lack of knowledge/skills etc.

The manager should advise the jobholder that they both have a responsibility to address the matters identified. The manager in discussion with the jobholder should establish the most appropriate measures or combination of measures. These can include any or all of the following and a record should be kept by the manager of all such measures provided to the jobholder:

  • Coaching from a more experienced peer or the manager.
  • Self-managed learning by the jobholder of specified material.
  • Specific formal training arranged.

Attendance patterns including health reasons

Where this happens the manager should seek guidance from HR.

Personal and/or domestic difficulties

Where this happens the manager should seek guidance from HR.

Lack of commitment or effort

A jobholder whose performance is not satisfactory because of his or her lack of commitment or effort is unlikely to disclose that as the reason. There can be many reasons for this, ranging from embarrassment, defensiveness, denial etc.

Te manager should cite concrete examples in support of their contention.

Examples could include poor attendance and/or lack of punctuality on the part of the jobholder; inadequate preparation for work tasks or events; poor quantity and/or quality of work output; ignoring guidance/advice on the optimal way to deal with the work; letting colleagues down; etc.

Refusal to acknowledge underperformance

This is not a cause of underperformance. However, where a jobholder refuses to acknowledge or accept that he or she is underperforming, the manager will need to demonstrate that this is the case. This should be done by reviewing the jobholder's work in conjunction with his or her Role Profile. While acceptable performance of tasks should be acknowledged, unacceptable performance should be clearly explained.

When explaining, the manager should state in relation to each of the relevant tasks/aspects of the job what is an acceptable level of performance and, using examples, the areas in which the jobholder's performance has fallen short of this standard.

If, following this process, the jobholder continues to refuse to acknowledge underperformance; the manager should consult with HR.

Longstanding underperformance

This is a particularly difficult issue to deal with. It can arise because the underperformance was never tackled before; or because all previous efforts at tackling it failed to resolve it.

Notwithstanding the history of the underperformance, the current manager should make best efforts to now deal with it. Managers should only focus on the current Role Profile and the current work performance of the jobholder and not on past performance.

In discussing solutions, the manager could consider an incremental approach to seeking to improve the jobholder's performance, if he or she deems it to be appropriate. By confining the initial remedial approach to smaller, manageable blocks of work, the manager can avoid the jobholder becoming overwhelmed or daunted by the task. For example, the manager could, in the Performance Improvement Plan, elect not to deal with all performance issues at once. Instead, a specific, time bound task or project could be specified. When the specified task/project has been completed (or the agreed timeframe has passed, whichever is sooner), the manager could meet with the jobholder and review the performance of that task or project. Depending on the outcome, additional time bound tasks/projects can then be set and reviewed at the agreed checkpoints.

If this approach succeeds, it should be continued until the jobholder reaches a consistently satisfactory level of performance.

Manager's view

The manager should review the jobholder's performance by reference to his or her Role Profile, taking each key task in turn and giving positive or negative feedback as appropriate. All feedback should be addressed to the performance, not the personal attributes, of the individual.

Feedback should be expressed in constructive terms.

As far as possible, the manager should cite factual examples in support of the views they are expressing. In a case where a jobholder does not appear to accept that he or she is underperforming examples can provide a means of demonstrating the underperformance.

In relation to underperformance, the manager should outline what the impact has been (e.g. consequences of missed deadlines; increased workload for colleagues and/or manager; effect on customer service/image of the Section/ morale in the Section etc.).


Having identified what are the issues, the manager and jobholder should then proceed to discuss realistic approaches to resolve them, (including whether any training and development support is appropriate) and over what timeframe. 

Performance improvement plan - model agreement

Summary of agreement

The details of the measures to be adopted to deal with the underperformance, and the relevant timeframes should then be set out in the Performance Improvement Plan.


Should the individual not meet prformance levels expected within the agreed timeframe, further meetings should take place.

Performance improvement plan - second meeting invitation - model letter

Performance improvement plan - final meeting invitation - model letter

If the individual improves to the level required at any stage, this should should be confirmed.

Performance improvement - no further action - model letter

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Guide to performance improvement plans
guide to performance improvement plans