If you haven’t guessed by now or are reading one of my articles for the first time, you know that I work in Human Resources and yes, I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I really like this career, it has opened many doors and provided a stable (for the most part) career for me.
And then, of course, there is the dark side of HR, those shadier aspects of the industry that I believe needs to be brought into the light and change for the betterment of all.
Performance Improvement Plans aka PIPs is one of those shadier and problematic aspects of HR.
Talk to any HR professional or manager about PIPs and you will get varying opinions ranging from love to absolute hatred.
My idol, Liz Ryan, the CEO of the Human Workplace and whose opinions I’ve shared both on this blog, my Twitter, and LinkedIn, absolutely abhors PIPs. Ryan has valid reasoning for her opinion, and points to the larger issues with PIPS, they are often misunderstood and misused, thus usually rendering them useless.
Regardless, PIP’s are still used as a means to curb or “improve” employee performance. However, being the employee advocate I am, I am going to tell you the real truth and why if you are ever presented with a PIP (both written and verbal) you need to start a new job search!
First of all, what is a Performance Improvement Plan and why do HR and managers use them?
Some HR professionals will tell you that managers put employees on a PIP to help address issues with their performance. An example of this is when a sales rep isn’t hitting their target sales for the month or an employee fails to complete their assigned projects. The point is to point out the performance gaps and create a game plan to address them within a timeframe.
In an ideal world, that would be okay, and in some cases, a PIP can help get an employee back on track but in my experience, this typically isn’t the case.
Performance Issues: I’ve seen managers put employees on a PIP BEFORE ever addressing the issues with the employee first! PIPs are often an extreme measure, which means the manager is waiting too long to address the issues or the employee is taking too long to address the issues. In these cases, HR should ask managers, “What conversations have you had with the employee regarding their performance?”
HR Involvement: If a manager is putting an employee on a PIP, then most likely this manager is building a case to terminate this employee. So, of course, this manager has already talked to HR because the PIP is the first step towards termination. (I know some HR professionals will disagree, but I can assure you that it is the reality.) Truthfully, HR wants to get involved at this point to cover the company’s ass and documenting an employee’s work habits(aka PIPS) can allow them to do this.
Scare Tactic: Issuing an employee a PIP doesn’t always do what it is intended to do. First, if a manager is just now bringing up work “issues” via a PIP, then an employee is going to know something’s up. “Why are you just now addressing these issues when I worked here all this time?,” s the first question many employees will ask.
Unrealistic: Many PIPs are designed to guarantee an employee’s failure. is going to fail. Some list impossible deadlines, vague expectations, and undefined goals. Employees might not know what questions to ask or just sign the PIP thinking it will be addressed later. It won’t be.
So, what should you do if you get a PIP?
Read It: Don’t let your manager read the PIP to you. Read it with your own eyes, take notes, and document everything!
Copy It: Make a copy of the PIP and keep a copy for yourself. Make a copy of the actual PIP YOURSELF! Keep both a paper and electronic copy!
Discuss It: A good PIP is well documented and detailed. So, when you are reviewing it, talk with your manager with any areas with which you disagree. Take your time and address any and everything that feels out of line. Don’t be defensive. Just state the facts, and if you have receipts aka proof that is even better!
Negotiate It: Make sure the expectations and time for completion are sensible and realistic. If it's not, then ask for an extension, additional help, resources, or anything you feel would level the playing ground and promote your success. The goal is to buy yourself time while you start looking for another job because as I said before, a PIP is just the first step towards terminating your employment.
Don’t Sign It: If you don’t agree with what’s in the PIP and your manager isn’t willing to negotiate or discuss...don’t sign it. To be clear, this still means you should be looking but don’t sign it and don’t give in to any pressure. Still, ensure you get a copy but keep your signature off the paperwork!
What Are Your Next Steps?
To be honest, you only have one option: Start your job search! To be honest, I advise everyone to always have one foot out of the door because you never know. It may be harsh, but if a manager is giving you a PIP, isn’t really because they care about your progress. If that was the case, your “issues” would have been addressed sooner rather than later, which is why I advocate for bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with managers.
Trust me, your manager has already talked with human resources because they want you gone and is working with HR to make sure everything is in place before serving you with the PIP. You may get a severance and outplacement package, which can help keep you afloat and prevent you from suing the company, but either way your days are numbered!
So, save yourself some time, start a stealth job search, update your resume/LinkedIn profile, connect with recruiters, and clean out your desk.
Now, you may want to wait things out, especially if you want a severance package to carry you over (be warned some companies don’t offer severance), but the overall goal is to leave on your own terms.