A standard component of most organization’s human resource policies is a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). This process formalizes the timing, objectives and monitoring expectations for addressing performance issues.There is no denying the necessity of the PIP process from a legal or regulatory standpoint, but does it deliver expected outcomes?
Unfortunately, PIPs could be considered analogous to counter-offers, as in most cases, I haven’t witnessed positive outcomes.
Let’s assess it from both an employee and a manager’s point of view.
For the employee, a PIP is very likely going to be received as a slap in the face as it formalizes the perception of poor performance beyond the employee-manager circle. Even in the most tight-lipped organizations, it is extremely difficult to keep the knowledge that the employee is under formal review completely confidential, and at a bare minimum, the employee is aware that one or more staff in HR are now aware of the issue.
This shame or embarrassment may cause some employees to resign mid-way through the PIP. While this might be the outcome that the organization is hoping for, it is an unfortunate means to an end.
Unless the PIP is truly the first instance of negative feedback received by the employee, they are likely already aware that they are not meeting expectations, so the fact that their performance has not improved usually indicates that the expectation gaps will not be easily bridged. Formally documenting identified issues might help to focus attention, but often times the problem may simply be too difficult to fix and this realization would likely have dawned on both employee and manager in advance of instituting the PIP.
For a manager, the act of having to formally document the issues and worse, to formally audit performance over a defined period of time adds significant administrative effort to their daily routine. How likely is it that the manager will have a positive mind-set going into the process knowing that this burden is about to fall on them? This negativity will color their participation and will increase the chances of a negative outcome.
If there were easy solutions to address performance expectation gaps, most managers would likely have already explored those with the employees, hence the manager is likely to treat the PIP as an (un)necessary evil.
Ideally, HR departments could present managers and employees with statistics on the outcomes of past PIPs. This will help convince some managers of the benefits of persisting in coaching and developing expected behaviors, and might inspire some employees to see the upside of pursuing other opportunities on their own terms.