Why Performance Improvement Plans Don’t Work!

Don’t squander your employees’ trust!

Performance Improvement Plans Don’t Work
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Performance Improvement Plans don’t work!! There I said it. In this blog I’m going to explain to you exactly why, in all the years of my experience in HR and management, I’ve seen Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) have exactly the opposite effect of the one intended. 

But first…

Welcome back to another ADDA Infusion blog! I trust that you’re finding these informative and that they’re giving you some new ways to think about how you approach recruitment, staffing and human resources in general. 

As always there is an accompanying video, this week from Adam Daines, CEO of ADDA Infusion, and you can find that at the bottom of the page. 

Please do let us know in the comments section below, if this has helped you, what you’d like us to cover in a future blog and anything else you’d like to share. 

So PIPs then. Why don’t they work?

Suffice it to say: such things may not seem, on the face of it, to be particularly ‘pressing’ given the current situation. Performance Improvement Plans are generally the preserve of the office, and what with huge numbers of people still working at home; they’re probably on the wain anyway. 

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That might well be the case, but it is still a subject that is coming across my desk on a regular basis. Even now. 

Now I really don’t think that PIPs work at all. So much so that I’ve dubbed them the “People Irritation Plans”. Why? Well let’s be open and honest about what their use really means. You see, a lot of employers think that PIPs are only about employees, and that their use doesn’t say anything about them as an organisation. 

Not so! 

When you include Performance Improvement Plans in your staffing procedures, you’re really saying the following about your organisation:

  1. Your management can not effectively manage performance, within the organisation. They’re not having conversations and providing the necessary coaching for team members. 
  2. Training is inadequate.
  3. Communication is poor – with managers not wanting to sit down and have difficult, but necessary conversations with their staff. 
  4. Management are hiding behind procedure and the HR process, rather than having personal conversations and lines of communication with individuals. 

I have also seen PIPs used as a method of, effectively ‘managing someone out of the organisation’. They didn’t feel that they had enough ‘on’ someone to let them go cleanly, so they put them on a PIP to try and effectively build a case against them. 

Not the nicest of things to do to someone, is it?

So, if you do find yourself sitting down with an employee and telling them that you’re putting them on a PIP, how do you think they’ll feel?! Will they think that you really have their best interests at heart? 

Performance Improvement Plans Don’t Work
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You’ve gotten them to a Performance Improvement Plan. You are effectively threatening their job and just telling them all of the things that are wrong with what they’re doing! Would you want to partner with someone who was doing that to you, in order to turn it all around?!

Odds are, they are going to nod their head, pay you lip-service and promise to do better. But the trust is broken! They no longer trust you our the organisation, as a place to grow and build a career. You have effectively ambushed them. 

Performance Improvement Plans don’t work for this very reason: it’s like someone jumping out of a closet at you. 

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They are a horrible surprise and they provoke exactly the physical symptoms that come with that:

  • They’re in shock 
  • The heart rate is up
  • They’re angry
  • Panic sets in and responses to your questions will be coming from a fight or flight response, rather than a place of honesty and good will!

This is not a conducive space from which to ‘improve performance’! Quite the opposite. You’ve just denied their confidence in your loyalty to them, they feel like they’re already an outsider and odds are: they’ll go back to their desk and start looking for a new job!

Now you may disagree with me. That’s fine. You might have used Performance Improvement plans in the past, and the outcome has been improved performance. Good for you! 

This is anecdotal evidence though. You might also have won the lottery, that doesn’t mean that every ticket is a winner, does it?!

In my opinion, the mere presence of PIPs on a policy document indicate a lack of empathy in the corporate ethos. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone hauled infant of management and ambushed like that. You’re probably thinking that anyone who does this is either sadistic or completely lacking in empathy!

cottonbro at Pexels

Now this may not be the case (I’m sure you don’t mean to give that impression at all) but it is how it comes across! 

So if Performance Improvement Plans don’t work, what is the best way to manage performance?

Well it’s not with fear. Fear is NOT an effective motivator in your workforce, I promise you. PIPs install fear. Again: put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to work hard and do your best for an organisation that keeps you under a cloud of fear, and doubt in their commitment to you?!

Here is  list of things that you can do to avoid the need for Performance Improvement Plans, while encouraging employees and maximising their performance: 

  • Managers should have continuous conversations with staff about their performance, built on trust. 
  • Help them by setting bite-sized goals/targets over time, in order to help them overcome their perceived shortcomings within their role.
  • Show them that you are invested in them. That you are willing to provide the tools that they need, in order to perform better within the organisation. 
  • Ensure that there is an open atmosphere of continuous feedback, so that they feel heard and free to communicate with management. 

As we’ve spoken about in prior blogs; your reputation as an employer is vital to your ability to attract the talent and skills that you need, when you need them!

Have a clearly understood company ethos of standing by employees. Offer them the support to improve their performance to the requisite standards, and demonstrate that you want to help them remain in their position. This breeds loyalty and garners you a reputation of being a company that values people. 

Performance Improvement Plans Don’t Work
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A lot of people come to me already convinced that Performance Improvement Plans are what they need, and asking me to write one up for them.

My advice is always: “Don’t do it!

Goodwill is the greatest commodity you have with your workforce. Squander that with fear-based performance strategies like PIPs, and you’ll very quickly find that your staff turnover begins to rise, performance levels fall and you find it hard to attract new people of a high standard. Lose/lose!

Instead: begin by seeing this as a two-way relationship, not one of dominance or ‘enforcement’ per se. Accept your role as an employer as being one of encouraging growth and providing people with what they need, in order to grow. 

And hey look: you may still get to the end of the road with someone, who just will not improve their performance to the level you need. If you do, both parties will have a clear history of communication on the matter, with no recourse for grievance. You will be able to let them go (if it comes to that) with a clear conscience and under as amicable terms as possible. 

I hope that helps give you a clearer understanding of why I think Performance Improvement Plans don’t work.

Hopefully I’ve also given you some positive food for thought on how you can better manage your employees’ personal performance, but if you have any further questions: please reach out via our contact us page. 

Please check out Adam’s video on this subject for more info, right here:

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