The purpose of the performance improvement plan or “PIP” is to give an employee the opportunity to make certain changes in their work performance so as to merit ongoing employment. Put another way satisfy the PIP and you keep your job. Of course, there are all sorts of statements in the PIP (or there should be) that satisfaction of the PIP does not mean an employee will keep their job, but that’s the intent. Or is it?
Often times I end up looking at employment situations and I’m asked to evaluate what types of claims might be filed and the strength and merits of such claims. The tough part of that evaluation is trying to figure out if the company has handled the situation “fairly”. In some circumstances the employer will have attempted to use PIP before they ever talk to me – that is generally good news. As a rule of thumb, if an employer is talking to me about implementing a PIP it’s probably too late in the employment progression. Why do I say that? For a PIP to work there needs to be “buy in” from the folks implementing it. Some times I’ll see situations where the PIP is almost viewed as a box to check before a firing. They don’t work that way and if that is the approach from the outset they are most likely going to fail. If the person needs to be let go, the PIP may not make sense and that’s okay.
When the PIP is constructed the goals associated with PIP have to be reasonable. Part of the PIP will usually have fuzzy goals like “getting along with others” or working on communication skills. That will come down to a subjective evaluation. Then we have the objective items like billable hours or sales goals. There are objective numbers that can be tied to a goal, some of which may already exist pre-PIP. The numbers have to be reasonable and there has to be enough time to give the employee an honest shot at satisfying the PIP. A month isn’t always enough time. If the employer doesn’t want to do that – don’t do the PIP. Finally, make sure the employee understands the PIP. It should be easy to read and the goals clear. Interim evaluations during the PIP period usually make sense.
If done correctly a successful PIP could mean salvaging the employment relationship. If the employee doesn’t perform, so be it, yet another example of the employer trying to work with the employee. I have also seen the situation where the employee quits rather than go through the PIP. Bottom line is to seriously consider whether the PIP is appropriate before going that route.