The PIP: An Underutilized Tool

I am surprised at how infrequently employers use Performance Improvement Plans for employees with performance or behavior problems.  A PIP is often the perfect remedy for the employee who:

  • Has been told over and over to stop doing “X” or start doing “Y” but doesn’t do it.
  • Is likely to bring a discrimination complaint or union grievance if discipline is imposed or he or she is terminated.
  • Is a good employee who just needs a kick in the pants to shape up.
  • Has been a poor employee for a long time but no one told him or her so it’s not fair to just terminate them.

So how does a PIP work? I have a formula that seems to work for a variety of situations.  It has several sections.  In this post, I will outline the first half; next time, the remainder.

Start with an introductory paragraph that sets the stage by telling the employee (1) he or she is valued, but needs to change; (2) the employer is going to set out expectations and is confident that the employee will be able to meet them; and (3) the employer will provide support but ultimately it’s up to the employee accept the goals set out in the plan.

The first main section that follows is a “Statement of Concerns.”  This lists the specific performance or behavior problems at issue. Specificity is important: you don’t want to say, “You are angry.” Rather, you want to say, “You exhibit inappropriate anger in the workplace, e.g., your face gets red, your voice gets elevated, and you clench your fists. This is disturbing and distracting for your co-workers.”

Similarly, you don’t want to say, “Your writing is poor.” Rather, you want to say, “Your writing is ungrammatical, your paragraphs are too long, and your work contains too many typos and spelling errors.”

Next, you want to set out, “Expectations.”  This can start with something like, “It is unacceptable for the above behaviors to continue.  Therefore, I am identifying the following performance expectations for you.”

The expectations, too, must be very specific. So if the problem is anger, the PIP can say: “You will not exhibit anger in the workplace. This means you will not raise your voice, clench your fists, or get in a co-worker’s face. If you feel you are getting angry, you will leave the area until you can calm down.”

In the writing situation  you can say something like, “You will keep your paragraphs no longer than one-fifth of a page, will check your grammar and spelling, and will proof read your work before turning it in.”

So do you also need to provide support to the employee to help him or her meet the expectations? Stay tuned. Next time I will discuss the carrot and the stick.

So why do you think more employers don’t use PIPs?  ~Amy Stephson

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