As a human resources executive, I’ve certainly given my fair share of PIPs, or more formally known as a “performance improvement plan.”
A PIP, or performance improvement plan, is a formal document used by an employer to let an employee know that their work performance is not up to standard.
A PIP will typically include a written description of the performance problem and what the employee needs in order to get back on track.
The main purpose of a PIP is to provide employees with guidance and help them improve their overall work performance. A PIP can be helpful for employees who aren’t sure about how best to improve at work.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the specifics.
A PIP or performance improvement plan should not be the first time you are hearing of your underperforming.
You’ll find it’s often used as a last resort when other methods of correcting low performance have failed.
A PIP can take many forms and vary in length depending on the needs of both you and your employer.
The most common components of a PIP may include:
- A meeting between yourself and your manager where they explain what areas need improvement. The will also be discussing what will need to be achieved, often including deadlines. Expect to see clear expectations and responsibilities you will be required to complete.
- Regular check-ins with your manager and/or HR.
- Support and resources geared towards your successful completion of the PIP.
The logistics of a PIP can be wide and varied.
The purpose of a PIP is to provide you with guidance as well as help improve your performance over time. The document will typically include a written description of the performance problem and what the employee needs to do in order to get their job back on track
The duration can range from anywhere between 30-90 days—although I’ve seen much longer ones as well. If your performance plan is erring on the longer end, make sure you have regular check ins with your manager. These meetings should be used to check on your progress against the goals.
As previously mentioned, you’ll be expected to deliver on key items over the course of the PIP. At the end of the specific time frame, you will have either successfully completed the PIP, meaning you will be an employee considered in good standing. Or, conversely, your employment will end and you’ll be terminated.
Some organizations have options where you can choose to accept a severance package in lieu of the PIP. If this is the case, there are likely terms and conditions as part of the severance package that you’ll want to comfortable with before signing.
Although it’s easy for parties on both sides of a dispute to misinterpret a PIP, it’s better than not having one at all.
PIP is a formal procedure that employers can use when they want to improve performance. It’s not a disciplinary action, and it’s not punishment; it’s simply an opportunity for both parties to talk about areas where there might be room for improvement.
This process should not be confused with performance reviews–which occurs at specific intervals in the year.
A performance management conversation can occur at any point when someone has been underperforming in their role. A PIP also focuses on improving certain aspects of an employee’s performance (which could potentially include things like punctuality, communication skills, or collaboration).
A Performance Improvement Plan can help you fix your mistakes while getting you back on track in your career.
When an employer decides that an employee needs a PIP, it’s usually because they’ve been underperforming for some time or have made serious mistakes on the job.
The goal of a PIP is for both sides–the manager and the employee–to come together and figure out what’s not working so that everyone can work together toward improving things going forward.
How to make the best of being on a Performance Improvement Plan?
I can boil this down to a few main ideas:
- Schedule consistent meetings with your manager early and often to make sure your making progress. You want to wait too long before you realize you still aren’t making meaningful process.
- Ask them what you are doing wrong, and how to fix it. Figure out what developmental supports you need to be successful.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your manager, or other people in the company who may be able to help you improve your performance. That’s why they are there — your manager, at least.
- Be honest with yourself, if you are not sure what areas of improvement are needed by asking questions such as: “Where am I struggling the most right now? What support am I missing to do better? What conditions meet to be met for me to do my best?” Once you figure this out, chat with your manager on your assessment and where you landed.
Can a Performance Improvement Plan be a preliminary step towards termination?
In theory, yes.
Depending on how your organization works, you could possibly terminated for nearly any reason without cause, especially if you’re an at will employee.
However, there are instances where managers will go through the motions of this process just to terminate the employee anyway. Luckily, I will say most managers enter into a performance plan really wanting to mitigate the issue and get their person back on track. If for no other reason than not wanting to rehire for the role again.
How can you avoid a Performance Improvement Plan?
The best way to avoid getting a PIP is simply by doing your job to standards set forth by your manager.
You may feel you’re doing everything perfectly, but your manager may totally disagree. It’s super important to be in alignment with their standards of performance. Yes, your interpretation of your performance is important. However, your manager is holding the keys in this case.
You can also continue improving yourself every single day, and luckily there are lots of ways you can do this.
Consider taking classes outside work (or even within), learn new skills through online tutorials or books. Think about reading up on industry trends so that you’re always fresh and update. Additionally, you’ll know exactly where things stand compared with other companies doing similar work.
It’s not the end of the world if you find yourself on a PIP. However, it’s definitely a signal to take a step back and reassess. Do the deep work of understanding what you can do better so that you’re most effective in your role. Use the tips above to best position yourself and you’ll be back at your greatest work self in no time.