Whenever people write about Performance Improvement Plans, or PIPs, they usually can’t resist a Gladys Knight reference. It’s reassuring that people still remember music when it was good.
But are PIPs good? I don’t think so.
If you’re new to the corporate world, a PIP is the equivalent of a workplace timeout and being put on notice to up your business game...or else. But what’s the point? Why prolong the agony?
If HR, hiring manager, and employee get to the stage of discussing and implementing a PIP, it is likely far too late to course correct and better for all parties involved to simply move on. If there is a success story of someone coming out of a PIP and living to tell about it, please step up and say so. That would be more impressive than the story of the Phoenix.
The professional and social contract between employer and employee is quite basic: employer hires employee to perform specified functions in return for monetary and other compensation. Here's a little secret: every employee is on a PIP with an expectation to perform and to maintain a minimum level of competency and functional performance from Day 1. When an employer is compelled to implement a PIP, they are effectively stating, "No this time, we're serious. You need to do what we originally hired you to do and we are giving you another 90 days to try and make this right even though you haven't demonstrated any ability, desire, or willingness to meet our expectations thus far."
There is a fundamental flaw in institutionalizing this backstop for incompetency and/or lack of fit between employer and employee. When corporations formalize PIPs as part of their HR policies, they are basically sanctioning and intentionally building a buffer for poor performance into their organizations. The last time I checked, business was competitive and, unless you are Google or Facebook, most companies cannot afford to harbor underachievers a day longer than necessary.
Understandably, some HR professionals may protest that the PIP is a required tool of the trade for CYA moments in their business. I contend that if they adopt the mentality that the PIP is always on with employees from the get-go, they can reasonably monitor and document poor performance to justify a layoff without having to resort to a formal PIP, delaying the inevitable, and costing their organization any more time, money, and productivity than necessary.
As an HR professional, I am imploring my fellow associates with the influence and power: eliminate the PIP and use more holistic and 360-degree monitoring, communication, and management to lift underperformers and/or weed them out of your organizations. You've got better things to do than endure another bad act.