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A Command Performance

Sit down with a team member whose work is falling short and chart a plan for getting the person back on track.

A Command Performance
Before presenting a PIP, spend time developing SMART goals for the employee.

Do you have an employee who has potential but is habitually underperforming? A performance improvement plan (PIP) might be the answer when typical feedback, coaching and corrective actions fail to move the needle on the team member’s behavior. The PIP is a human resources tool found in many corporations. It’s a formal document that clearly states:

  • The areas where better performance is needed.
  • The necessary results to regain a satisfactory employment standing.
  • The available resources to obtain the results.
  • The time frame for achieving results.
  • The consequences if specified goals are not met.

Unsurprisingly, a PIP is not a favorite of employees and can be viewed as a source of both fearmongering and a superficial paper trail before termination. Proponents find that when leveraged appropriately, a PIP can help improve communication and motivate team members so that they remain employed. The key is managerial support.

Before you start an employee’s PIP, first consider why. Are you trying to justify a possible firing or demotion? Does your frustration with the person’s performance overshadow your desire to help the team member succeed? Does she lack the knowledge, skills or abilities to achieve what you require? If so, these are not scenarios where PIPs should be utilized.

Instead, implement a PIP when an employee possesses what is necessary to perform satisfactorily and for whatever reason is continuously or recurrently falling short. The manager must genuinely want to see the employee push through the blockade holding her back and must be readily available to assist and encourage her through the process.

Have a Can-Do Attitude

When sitting down with an employee to discuss a PIP, make sure to project a tone of care and concern. The meeting is not intended as one-way reprimand and discipline like with a written warning. Instead, you are clearly communicating that you want the employee to succeed but that her performance level is not acceptable and consequences will occur in the absence of marked improvement. The conversation should be a dialogue that allows the employee to confidentially share the reasons she is not at her best and end with an achievable plan of action.

Recognize that as the manager, your previous actions might be part of the problem. Prepare to be receptive to feedback and make any changes needed to improve your performance.

Before presenting the PIP, spend time developing SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals for the employee. Is the issue one of attendance or punctuality? Define timecard boundaries and expectations that are commensurate with co-workers in good standing. Are clients complaining about the employee? Consider deploying client satisfaction surveys so that you have standardized third-party input. Is better efficiency required? Use time sheets to track performance and identify bottlenecks.

Next, provide training and development resources. Research webinars, books or articles that speak to the performance standard. Identify teammates who can model and teach the required skill. When personal problems are brought to a manager’s attention, provide access to an employee assistance program if your practice has one or direct the employee to websites that address the issue.

Stay Involved

After a timeline for improvement goals has been set — over 30, 60 or 90 days, for example — schedule regular check-ins to monitor the employee’s progress, unblock obstacles and provide encouragement. I find that workplace communication platforms such as Slack are useful for facilitating frequent communication without the need to pull an employee off the floor or excessively interrupt the manager’s day. Consistent communication will help inform the employee at the conclusion of the probationary period whether she failed or succeeded at fulfilling the PIP requirements.

Encourage the employee to adopt a positive perspective in response to the PIP. Urge her to make her job a top priority. Tips for her could include:

  • Arrive ready to tackle the day by showing up on time, well-rested, well-nourished, and looking neat and professional.
  • Focus on work while she is on the clock.
  • Look for the positives and opportunities during every task and interaction.
  • Become more involved with the veterinary industry through education and networking.
  • Engage with the team by accepting work-related invitations and getting to know her co-workers better.
  • Disengage from deleterious gossip and venting.

Outline how the employee’s new effort can lead to enhancing her qualifications, value and happiness in her chosen career. Ask whether she is comfortable seeking assistance or clarification. If she is, make yourself available. Also, ensure the employee has clearly heard and believes that the leadership team desires her success.

A manager who takes the time to establish goals, identify resources, check in with the employee regularly, and maintain a helpful and encouraging attitude has done due diligence. The remaining onus for success falls on the employee.

Expanding the PIP

The PIP also can be used to outline the steps for achieving a raise, bonus, promotion, skill enhancement or lateral role change. The document can be rebranded as a professional development plan (PDP) and the PIP’s consequences section can be swapped with details about opportunities and rewards.

Typical performance reviews have a reputation for being one-sided. They often lack forward-thinking, actionable items. I plan to transition my usual performance review format into a collaborative PDP, one that provides clearer direction, expectations and motivations for employees to perform at the next level. Aided by the regular use of a PDP, a culture of continuous improvement and accountability can be enhanced, and corrective PIPs then might be better understood and followed by lagging teammates.

Through thoughtful planning and communication, implementing PIPs and PDPs can cultivate a productive and engaged workforce, recognize efforts at self-improvement, correct subpar performance, and encourage individual and team success.

Take Charge columnist Abby Suiter is the practice manager at Daniel Island Animal Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. She has spent nearly her entire life in the industry, earning her keep in her parents’ animal clinic before advancing into the world of veterinary management. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and is a certified veterinary practice manager.


A performance improvement plan should include these items:

  • Date
  • Employee name
  • Employee position
  • Manager/supervisor name
  • Reason for PIP
  • Required actions and results needed to reach the performance standard
  • Training and support resources
  • Check-in schedule and expectations
  • Final review date
  • Acknowledgment of the plan and consequences for failing to meet the performance standard
  • Employee signature
  • Manager signature