Call it a personal peeve of mine, or maybe just me getting old, but when someone says the phrase, “They are on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP),” it is like nails on a chalkboard for me!
Fortunately, I have never been on a PIP, but I have worked with many who have been. As a manager, I have adamantly refrained from ever placing anyone on a PIP and always utilized a more positive and motivating approach. Over my 30+ years of experience, I have never heard someone say with enthusiasm, “Wow, I am so happy! My manager just placed me on a PIP, and it is time to improve!”
There is not one thing that denotes “positive” with the term PIP. If you research the actual definition of PIP, you can find a plethora of information on the web. Many professional sites define a PIP as “a tool to give an employee with performance deficiencies the opportunity to succeed. It may be used to address failures to meet specific job goals.” On the surface, the definition sounds fine; however, the reality is much different. Although PIP is a common term used in industry, I will ask you to rethink its importance.
Employees who receive a PIP walk away with one thought: “I guess this means I am getting fired!” They walk out of the manager’s office either crying, panicking, or immediately pulling up Indeed.com to update their resume and start the job-hunting process. The one thing the employee is not doing is thinking about what they need to do to improve their performance! PIP is an emotional trigger of negative thoughts and an urgent sense of professional survival.
A PIP is nothing more than a scare tactic that attempts to threaten an employee into motivation to improve—which really has the opposite effect. Employees are not motivated to improve; they are motivated to leave! Let’s not fool each other—the only result a PIP achieves is to check the box of documenting an employee’s poor performance to defend against possible illegal termination lawsuits which might arise.
So, what should we do? What do employees want from their manager when performance does not meet standards? Well, first, if you want to terminate the employee, then terminate them. Don’t slowly torture them until professional death with a PIP process. Don’t try to give employees hope with a PIP when there really is none! But, if you want the employee to remain with your organization and improve their performance, then develop them!
In place of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) process, organizations should consider changing to a Performance Development Plan (PDP) process. The reality is that all employees should have a PDP; we all need to improve on something, correct? From the CEO to the warehouse worker, performance improvement is expected! Therefore, why do organizations continue to segment employees without a PIP as “good” employees and those with a PIP as “bad” employees? PIP is a psychological killer of employee morale, attitude, motivation, and success. History has proven a negative connotation of the term, so why use it at all?
Additionally, many companies place employees on a PIP and simply let them figure out how to improve their “poor” performance—no development plans, training, coaching, support, etc. Employees on a PIP are thrown in the deep end of the pool and asked to “figure it out and survive.” Then when the employee fails (which, without any developmental support, they will fail), the employees are personally blamed and ultimately terminated. Thus, the reason why the PIP has succumbed to a negative reputation amongst any employee!
Employee development is one of the most powerful tools to retain talent, increase employee motivation, and build a bench of excellent employee resources that can effectively lead the organization. There are several innovative resources and support mechanisms to assist in developing employees. Progressive organizations seek out individualized professional coaching and long-term development initiatives that are customized specifically for the organization and employee needs. The investment in employee development results in an ROI well beyond what is expected in terms of succession planning, motivation, retention, and increased productivity.
If you feel an employee has value, then invest heavily in their success and provide them with all the necessary developmental resources to improve their performance. A PIP is undoubtedly not one of those resources. It is time for the PIP to rest in peace!