How leaders and individuals can happily get the most out of a Performance Improvement Plan.

How leaders and individuals can happily get the most out of a Performance Improvement Plan.
September 16, 2021 Linda Murray

Delivering feedback to a team member who is underperforming is an uncomfortable and challenging experience. It’s even more so when you need to introduce a PIP – a Performance Improvement Plan.

What is a PIP?

A Performance Improvement Plan is a formal document that highlights where the individual’s performance is needing attention and lays out a plan for development, including goals to be reached.

Why performance feedback doesn’t prevent the need for a PIP.

According to a 2020 report by Reflektive, “Since 2018, there has been an 89% increase in the percentage of employees who want formal performance conversations monthly or more frequently.” What that means is that people are ready and willing to improve their performance. While no one wants to be told they need to go onto a PIP, neither do they want to deliver a substandard performance.

The same report also found 25% of employees don’t know how to request feedback, leaving them unclear on where they stand.

If you don’t know how to ask for feedback and you’re not clear on the indicators of good performance, it’s no wonder there’s a need for a PIP.

A PIP is a moment of choice.

A PIP is not about discipline or punishment (which is how they are often perceived). It’s actually about providing a tailored development plan and clear KPIs.

If you’re a leader, you’ll find most people will be pleased to be given a map showing them what they need to do to improve. A PIP gives them the power to change their performance and do things better. If a team member resists a PIP, they are in effect, choosing to perform poorly.

As an individual, a PIP puts the choice into your hands. It will make you reassess your career and make some powerful choices.

Here’s an example.

Let me tell you about Kate, a mid-level manager who was performing OK, but who had lost enthusiasm for her role. She wasn’t putting in the same effort she once did. It showed in her work and in the way she related to the job. Her manager had no choice but to introduce a PIP.

Once Kate got over the initial shock and ‘shame’ of finding herself on a PIP, feeling she’d let herself and the team down, she realised this was a decisive point in her career. She could either save everyone the hassle (and her own embarrassment) and call it quits (run away!) OR she could use this as a kick in the bum to commit to her own development and step up. This was a new career opportunity.

What did a PIP do for Kate? It helped her:

  • Change her attitude
  • Re-engage with her role
  • Remember to seek feedback from people around her, especially her manager

What are the key principles of a PIP?

If you are being placed on a PIP, approach it with a positive mindset. This plan is for your benefit and will guide your development so you can move forward in your career. Yep, this is all about YOU!

This is your opportunity to communicate with your manager and share feedback. Remember, feedback goes two-ways.

If you are the manager, be prepared to accept that you might hear feedback that is uncomfortable, too. You might need to make your own performance changes to help this situation improve. Ideally, you would have discussed this in a performance review, but sometimes it’s not until you get into the nitty-gritty of a PIP that issues are uncovered. Remember the one key rule of feedback? Choose the right time and the right place based on the receiver …

Here’s how a PIP discussion might go.

  1. Ask your manager to clarify what is expected of you in the role. What are you doing well? What needs to be improved? What are you not doing at all?
  2. Ask what your manager wants to see from you, whether it’s in productivity or personal terms.
  3. More importantly, ask your manager how you need to demonstrate that. How will she recognise or measure it? You need something to help you assess your own progress.
  4. Identify the skills you need to develop for the role you are in. Find the gaps between what you have and what you need.
  5. Plan a range of strategies for upskilling. There is a range of learning methods you can use, and a blend of techniques is often the best choice. Download a copy of the 70/20/10 development approach for you and your manager to consider while designing your development plan.
  6. Your manager should ask how she can support you as you work towards improvement. Seek their commitment to the plan, too.

If you are a manager, you have a team of people who are (for the most part) trying to deliver their best performance. If someone is underperforming, it may not be through any fault of their own. A PIP will help discover underlying issues you can deal with as well as give your people a clear roadmap to good performance.

If you’re an individual, struggling to discover what’s expected of you or unable to deliver high performance, a PIP will show you what you need to do.

A PIP is a clear plan for the future which benefits everyone. Approach it as a time of opportunity and enjoy the benefits it brings. If the idea of a performance-related conversation still fills you with dread, let’s chat. I can help you make the most of this opportunity.

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