Even the best of us have gotten our signals crossed at work. And when things get troublesome, we’ve found ourselves managing through a PIP: a performance improvement plan.
A reader wrote recently and asked me about managing through hers. Here’s her story, and my suggestions for managing through your own PIP with clarity, confidence, and courage.
Managing Through a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan)–What to Do & Say
A reader wrote:
I had to go through a performance improvement plan this year. I completed it successfully, but at the last PIP meeting, my leader and the HR representative made sure to tell me that even though I succeeded, if my work “fell below standards” again, there would not be another PIP, but that I would be disciplined “up to and including termination.”
I had thought when the PIP was over, I would finally be out from under a cloud. Now it seems I’m being told I will be under that cloud for the duration of my employment.
How can I continue in this job without living in fear of making a misstep every day? Is there any way for me to get a clean slate here?
Once workplace issues have escalated enough to generate a performance improvement plan, you can bet emotions are involved on all sides.
It’s tough to bear on both sides of the desk.
That said, now that you’ve met the requirements of the PIP, do you know what specifically led to the drama of a plan in the first place?
- Do you know what you were doing–or not doing–that didn’t meet expectations?
- Are you clearer now as to what success looks like through the eyes of your leader?
- If you could rewind the clock, is there something you would have said or done differently, sooner?
If you’re not clear
If you haven’t made personal discoveries about during the process and you have no new awareness of what’s expected–then now is the time to go back and ask your leader to spell out what success looks like.
You can say:
- “I’m looking back at all the things we talked about to complete the PIP successfully, and while you’ve stated I’ve made the improvement you want, I want to make sure to cement it in my day-to-day choices.
- What are the one or two things you’d say are the most important behaviors that I [start/stop/continue] for long-term success here?”
Raising the level of conversation helps your leader stop and think about what they really mean, and how they’re expressing it. If they can’t describe it, you’ve found yourself in a biased process, and that’s good data to motivate you to start seeking what’s next.
If you are clear
If you are clear about your leader’s expectations, and KNOW you’re meeting them, it’s fair to say:
- I wanted to share an observation with you and make a request.
- We worked through the PIP in good faith so I could learn what you need me to do differently to meet expectations. You’ve shared that I successfully met those expectations, and I’m glad of that.
- Now, based on what I heard you say in our meeting with HR, I sense you’re still expecting me to fail. I’d like to ask you to expect that I’ll succeed. I’m going to work my hardest to do so.
- Do I have your support in making this work? Or, if you truly don’t believe I will ever meet your expectations, I’d like your honest feedback now so I can focus on what’s next for me.”
Then shut up.
Let your leader squirm if needed.
Sometimes leaders are so focused on fixing problems that they don’t realize that they’re sending negative messages. After all, they’re human, too.
By asking them to expect that you will succeed, you’re making them aware that they may be looking at you harder because at one time you were a “problem” to “fix.”
And, if they honestly don’t think you’ll succeedin the role long term, or can’t support your success, then you have the data you need to motivate you to move on.
Don’t stay stuck in a place where people don’t trust you–it’s exhausting. No one wants to live in fear each day of doing something wrong.
Managing through a PIP can be difficult. It also can be a turning point for your career. Face it head on, have the tough conversations, and then make a solid decision to take control of your career today.
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