The Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a tool of performance management, commonly used when someone is performing below expectations. PIPs usually serve two purposes. The primary purpose of many PIPs is to provide a framework that helps supervisor and subordinate collaborate to elevate the subordinate's performance. The secondary purpose is to provide documentation for termination proceedings.
Often the first purpose is professed but fictitious. A plan is presented to the subordinate, but failure is foreordained. Documentation of failure is the true goal.
How can subordinates determine whether failure is foreordained? Here are some indicators that suggest that the true purpose of the PIP is documentation for termination.
- Objectives are essentially unachievable
- Realistic objectives are achievable. That is, given appropriate resources and time, they can be done. Some PIP objectives are simply unachievable — they are inherently impossible, or they exceed the bounds of human knowledge.
- The timeframe is unrealistic
- PIP durations are often set uniformly across the organization, independent of the nature of performance issues. One PIP might be focused on keeping more regular hours; another might be focused on repairing trust between co-workers. Keeping more regular hours might be addressed in weeks; repairing trust can require months or even years of effort. If the PIP timeframe is clearly too short for the issues to be addressed, the PIP is at risk of foreordained failure.
- Uncontrolled resource commitments
- If the subordinate is unable to obtain and defend necessary resource commitments, the plan is a fiction. A PIP that depends on resources that the subordinate can't get or keep is at risk of foreordained failure.
- Meeting the objectives isn't objectively measurable
- If determining If the PIP timeframe is clearly
too short for the issues to be
addressed, the PIP is at risk
of foreordained failurePIP execution success is subject to opinion-based debate about whether or to what extent something happened in the preferred manner, then that PIP is at risk of foreordained failure. Sometimes opinions aren't based in fact.
- Plaintiffs assess achievements
- Often, the need for a PIP arises from complaints by third parties dissatisfied with the subordinate's performance — the plaintiffs. If a plaintiff assessment is the principal factor determining successful execution of the PIP, the subordinate is at risk. Because some plaintiffs view successful PIP execution as a refutation of their original complaints, they have a conflict of interest.
- Interpersonal issues are the focus
- Because relationships are inherently bilateral, both parties almost always contribute to difficulties. To assume that one party to the relationship can repair it unaided is naïve. PIPs are appropriate for interpersonal issues only if an investigation has previously determined that the other party isn't contributing to the difficulty. A PIP undertaken without such prior determination is at extreme risk of foreordained failure.
Supervisors who design PIPs for "one last try" at performance improvement are risking being perceived as having set up their subordinates for failure, unless they eliminate these factors from their PIPs. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
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