When low performance gets really low, a fancy HR tool seems to come handy: the Performance Improvement Plan (sometimes also referred to as Personal Improvement Plan) or short PIP. Everything else has failed, and the boss is fed up now. He or she calls their favorite low performer in for a discussion with HR, and a formal PIP is set up: “in three (or six) months you have to achieve this…” with lots of “SMART” objectives, sometimes including behavioral guidelines. “No more complaints from your direct reports about rude or insulting behavior…”
After some time, there will be a formal follow-up discussion. And typically, that’s the time when the employment contract will be terminated—if the employee has not resigned before anyway.
Not everyone can be a star performer. Particularly as a leader in a larger organization, you may have to deal with a number of people whose performance is just “good enough” or “ok”. But what to do if it’s not good enough anymore and the under-performance has become unacceptable?
The PIP seems to make sense at first sight. But in reality, I have never seen it work. “Oh, now I realize that my boss is serious about getting results. I will put in all the extra effort needed and become the best possible performer I can be” or “All these years I misunderstood what senior management expected from me. Now I suddenly see clearly. Thanks to this Personal Improvement Plan I now know what to do”.
You don’t believe that any low performer will really respond like this, do you?
When low performance becomes unacceptable, there is typically only one underlying reason for that: you have hired the wrong person for the job! Either the person does not have the right attitude, and whatever “employee engagement tools” you use, this person will never become engaged. Or the person just does not have the necessary skills for the job. Whilst I truly believe that many skills can be developed, if your employee has not developed those over the last few years, I doubt that the PIP will be the magic potion to turn things around.
A PIP as a last resort simply does not work. It only prolongs the suffering on both sides.
Unacceptably low performance does not mean you are dealing with a bad person. No one under-delivers intentionally. Normally, there are no “bad” people. Low performance is in most cases an indication that a person is simply in the wrong job, that’s all. No PIP will make that person a great match for the job.
So what to do when PIPs don’t work?
Have an honest discussion with your staff. State clearly that performance is below expectations and unacceptable, while remaining respectful. Be clear with the facts and come from a place of sincerity so that your staff will not be compelled to become defensive or make excuses. Figure out what they really enjoy, what they are good at. What makes their eyes sparkle?
Then find out together if there is a position in the organization that’s better suited for the employee’s skills and ambitions. If yes, great! Performance improvement will be very likely, even without a performance improvement plan. If there is no such position, we’ll then you better agree to terminate the employment. This may sound tough, and nobody enjoys such discussions. Every break up is painful, initially. But in the long run, both the employee who got “fired” and the organization will benefit. Save your staff (and yourself) the embarrassment of going through additional weeks or months of suffering from a useless personal improvement plan.
Would you like to improve performance in your organization? Then we should talk:
phone: +66-2 107 2025 or +66-8 9811 3648