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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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come
with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them
onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you
carry all of it yourself.
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- Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration
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- When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand
— content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are
outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those
that relate to organizational politics.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: I
- By now, most of us realize how expensive meetings are. Um, well, maybe not. Here's a look at some of
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- Holding Back: II
- Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams.
Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort
they could contribute.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 16: Performance Mismanagement Systems: II
- One of the more counter-effective strategies incorporated into performance management systems is the enterprise-wide uniform quota, known as a vitality curve. Its fundamental injustice breeds cynicism, performance fraud, and toxic conflict. It produces performance assessments that are unrelated to enterprise objectives. Available here and by RSS on October 16.
- And on October 23: Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
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On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
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44017: November 7,
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- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.