Performance Improvement Plan (PIP): The Basics
If you googled the word “PIP,” you’d find a plethora of articles, most of them negative. For better or for worse, the PIP (performance improvement plan) has a bad reputation. The purpose of this article is not to take sides on this issue, but to give you the facts about how a PIP is actually administered if you find yourself having to execute one (as a manager) or partake in one (as an employee). Thus, my aim is to help you be prepared and know what to expect. But first, let’s briefly address the two differing viewpoints of a PIP, its purpose, and its effectiveness.
Most HR Leaders (and even your manager!) will tell you that a PIP is meant to help you get back on track with your performance. It sets measurable, attainable goals, provides you with additional support to achieve them, and gives you a clear timeframe within which to accomplish them. I’d like to think that most PIP’s are put in place with the best of intentions.
On the flipside, there is a commonly held view that PIP’s are simply a way for an employer to document your poor performance so they have a papertrail to justify firing you further down the road. In fact, some employees think that the decision to fire them is made well before the PIP is even implemented. Thus, they may believe that the PIP is a perfunctory exercise to protect the legal standing of the employer.
The overarching objective of the PIP should be to help the employee improve his or her performance to an acceptable level commensurate with the job duties. As stated above, this article is intended to help those employees who’ve been informed they will be placed on a PIP or managers who need to administer a PIP for a member of their team. At the very least, I hope this can help you to know what to expect throughout the process.
A PIP could last anywhere from 1 to 3 months. In most cases, this is a sufficient amount of time for you to make significant progress against the objectives stated in the PIP. This timeline is an estimate and could be shorter or longer depending on the type of job that you do.
Sample PIP outline
It’s extremely important to reach a final outcome at the end of the PIP and communicate this clearly to the employee in a timely fashion. Have all of the objectives been met, has performance improved and can the PIP be successfully concluded? If the objectives were partially met and the manager and HR feel that the objectives can be fully met with a bit more time, it may be appropriate to extend the PIP. Finally, if the objectives of the PIP have not been met and no improvement has been recorded, tougher conversations may need to be had with the employee, including options like demotion or termination. Whatever the outcome, the decision should be clear and employees should be told immediately to avoid any ambiguity or uncertainty.
In reference to the controversy I cited above, I’d like to hear from HR professionals out there who use other methods to turn around a poor performer. Should we throw the PIP to the wayside and use different techniques? If you have a proven method, I’d like to hear about it here!
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Renee Conklin is an HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. She is the founder of RC HR Consulting.
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