Posted: by HRNasty in Manage your Manager, What HR Really Thinks

Performance Improvement Plan

We are not talking about Gladys Knight’s and the Pip’s. We are talking Performance Improvement Plan.


What is a Performance Improvement Plan, AKA PIP? How does it work? What are your chances of surviving beyond the Performance Improvement Plan? Can an employee still have a successful career after a PiP?

The Performance Improvement Plan, aka PIP was originally designed to help the struggling employee by providing the tools needed to succeed at work.

  • The Performance Improvement Plan documents key deliverables / behaviors against a baseline that describes success.
  • The Performance Improvement Plan is usually prepared by the manager and signed by both the employee and the manager indicating an agreement on what success looks like.
  • At the end of an agreed upon time frame, the manager rates success or failure against the deliverables / behaviors. Meet the deliverables and you are off the Performance Improvement Plan.
  • If deliverables or behaviors are not met, the result is usually termination of employment. If this situation sounds dire, you would be correct. Things are not good. Fear not, the Performance Improvement Plan can be beat. HRNasty has your back.

If you are being put on a Performance Improvement Plan, count yourself lucky. A Performance Improvement Plan will spell out what success on your job looks like. If you are on a Performance Improvement Plan, then your manager took the time to give you a path to success and this is a good thing. Performance Improvement Plan’s are not used at the senior or executive levels. At these levels it is assumed you know what is up, what is expected and what success looks like.  

Mindset of a manager putting an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that the most managers putting an employee onto a Performance Improvement Plan are frustrated. Although the intent of a Performance Improvement Plan is to figure out a path to success,  managers usually write the Performance Improvement Plan with a, dare I say it, “anticipation of failure” mentality. Below are a couple of reasons a manager with a bad attitude would adopt the use of such a plan.

  • Performance Improvement Plan’s are put into place so that the company will have more protection in the case of a wrongful termination suit. With a clear path to success documented and signed, the court will have a hard time acknowledging “wrongful termination”. Psychologically, an employee will have a hard time pressing charges when they know they signed a document saying they were underperforming and didn’t meet specific expectations.
  • The manager is on autopilot and has a “set it and forget it” mentality Once the Performance Improvement Plan is documented and signed by the employee, all the manager has to do is set a follow up for the end of the designated period and see what progress is made towards the deliverables. If the deliverables are not met, the decision is easy for the manager. At this point, the manager can literally say, “I gave the employee a clear path to success, and the employee failed”.

That all being said, there are managers who will use the Performance Improvement Plan the way it was designed and are sincere about making sure the employee is successful. This manager will usually check in on a regular basis and make sure that the plan is understood and there are no barriers in front of the employee’s success. This manager cares.    

The key to success is to show you want to succeed. We do this by demonstrating effort and providing updates on your progress. We need to convince our manager to care about our performance. If a manager doesn’t see any effort, or doesn’t receive updates on the effort, it is easy to assume that we don’t care. Remember, without any updates or obvious visual cues, there isn’t any reason to believe that change is afoot. I have seen just as many employees attain success, as I have not.

Individual manager consideration:

Before I share my philosophy on beating the Performance Improvement Plan, I will provide a disclaimer. There are a number of managers and HR folks who feel strongly that it is very difficult to win back a confidence when performance has been in question. The thought process is that if we have lost the confidence of our manager, can we ever really get it back? This will be dependent on the manager, the role and the reasoning behind the Performance Improvement Plan. When we have lost faith in our friends, gaining that trust back depends on the severity of the crime and the visible intent and effort of the perpetrator. Some would say that if you are on a Performance Improvement Plan, you should just start looking for another job. Even if you get past the Performance Improvement Plan, convincing your manager that you have seen the light is an uphill battle. Some believe that as soon as the employee falters, there will be an “I told you the employee was hopeless and was going to fail” mentality held by the manager. You alone will have to judge your manager and the sincerity of the chance being given.

Beat the Performance Improvement Plan

Polygraph tests can be beat and so can Performance Improvement Plan’s.

Success or failure is going to depend on the cause of the PiP and the effort of the employee. We need to provide visible effort and updates throughout the length of the Performance Improvement Plan.

If you find yourself with a Performance Improvement Plan and a pen waiting for your signature, below are the steps needed to beat the Performance Improvement Plan.

  1. Take responsibility for prior behavior. From the manager’s perspective, this is the last chance. Managers are usually very frustrated when they are required to put an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan. Being defensive, blaming others (even if it isn’t our fault) or making excuses will not help our case.
  2. Ask for a day to think about it. Ask for an afternoon to think about it, but try to buy yourself some time. First thing the next morning, march into your managers office and explain the following. “I was wrong, I made a mistake, and I really want this to work. I like the company, I like the job, and I want to work with the team moving forward. I really appreciate the opportunity to make this work.” Give the manager the opportunity to hear these words and see sincerity. The first step of any 12-step program is to admit there is a situation.    
  3. Always try to negotiate a longer Performance Improvement Plan. If you are put on a 2-week Performance Improvement Plan, ask for 4 weeks. If you are put on a 2-month Performance Improvement Plan, ask for 3 months. The longer you have to change the behavior, the better your chances of proving you can maintain change long term. It can be difficult to show real or consistent improvement in just 1 to 2 weeks. Always ask for extra time.
  4. Make sure your Performance Improvement Plan is measurable. We need specific examples of what success looks like listed in the Performance Improvement Plan. If the goal is to deliver a report, explain what will be in that report. Just stating that Employee will provide a report on Acme’s publishing numbers isn’t enough. Are we going to break that report out by geographic? Are we going to provide potential problems and solutions to increasing publishing numbers? You may provide a spreadsheet, but your manager may have been expecting a 20 slide Power Point with the spreadsheet embedded in the presentation. Google the term “SMART Goals” for examples of what your specific goals look like.
  5. Once the Performance Improvement Plan clock is ticking, make it a point to provide proactive communication to your manager. Right or wrong, your manager feels like they already put a lot of effort into your performance. For many managers this is a set it and forget it document, so WE need to drive our success. Regular progress reports provided on a consistent basis against deliverables will give your manager insight into your effort and results. This will provide a path to changing your manager’s mind around your performance.
  6. Do not give any excuses, ever. Zero. The last thing a manager wants with someone on a Performance Improvement Plan is an excuse. No one wants to hear about the dog that ate the homework from the student with a reputation for not turning in his or her assignments.
  7. In most cases THE TEAM NEEDS TO SEE A DIFFERENCE as well. This change could be in the quality of work, quantity of work, attitude, communication style, etc. If the manager and the team doesn’t see a change then we are back to the “day before” the Performance Improvement Plan was put into place. Your manager isn’t the only one looking for a change in behavior. Show your team you are making a sincere effort.
  8. Check in regularly with your manager and confirm that you are making progress in relationship to the plan. Ask for specific confirmation that in their opinion you are on track.

Beat the PIP and we will see you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • Second Chance Jim

    This was great advice and I employed it recently. I think my company is trying to run a tighter ship as it grows and I got caught in the net. Using the talking points here really knocked them back on their heels a little bit and showed that they did not really think it through. They seem more invested in helping me beat this PIP and my manager actually talked himself into the position of mentoring me for the next 90 days. Thanks HRNasty

  • Leslie Duarte

    I was placed about a month a go on a PIP and was fired. The main problem in my case I had extra work load. I explained to my boss all of my work duties as lab manager, instrument manager, shipping/receiving duties, safety coordinator, receptionist, facilities management. Basically I had the job of more than one person. I would come in to work at about 4AM and leave work about 10PM. My boss new very well there was no way I could complete everything on the PIP by the end of the 30 days. HR and my boss refused to give me and extension. I was bullied from day one by my boss. I did not quit as I was buying time to be fully vested on my 401K.

  • If the PIP is delivered in bad faith you need to prepare a list of “evidence” that counter’s the foundation of the PIP and seek a lawyer for advice in crafting a response. Typically HR departments won’t issue these plans unless the manager in question has a demonstrable paper trail of a failure to meet expectations. Usually when there is no such trail the Manager will often concoct an “Action Plan for Success”, do not be fooled by such a plan, this effort is to hen peck you until a Manager has sufficient “paper” to have HR draft up a PIP. My advice is to calmly sit down and review your position and determine if it is really worth the fight.

  • JP

    At least that’s a more honest way of handling the situation than persecuting an employee and lets a person know where they stand. If the organisation really wanted to “Improve” an employee they would put them on a development plan where there is no threat of termination. These usually happen when people are struggling in life already and are quite frankly close to evil and so are the people who implement them.

    • Lemon

      I recommend resigning BEFORE going on the PIP. It’s really important to do that. I just went through a PIP where it impacted me in the most horrid way emotionally. It has crippled my career that was previously perfect in record. The reason why I was on the PIP? Because I had an arguement with my Manager. The next week, he put me on a PIP – this is AFTER he had said my performance was unquestionable and didn’t need any improvement whatsoever a few weeks earlier. The whole process really was tremendously unfair and it was clear that they company only wanted to put the Performance Improvement Plan into place so that the company will have more protection in the case of a wrongful termination suit. That meant their using the strategy to get me upset in the PIP meetings by using “unfair” examples to accuse me of, to which I could not fairly respond. So of course I got upset and that was apparently more grounds for them to dismiss me. Both my Manager AND HR were lying about things that they had said from one meeting to the other. They baited me for reactions using unfair examples with no times, dates or people involved – so I could not fairly respond. The sad fact is that these exercises are used as dirty tactics to get staff out the door. As my employer said, NO ONE had ever got through a PIP in the company before. Being threatened by termination? How is that constructive? It’s just a BULLYING tactic that companies use when they want you out the door. I have managed plenty of people and never once did I need to take anyone through HR. If I had an issue with a staff member, I took them for a coffee and talked it through with them. If you ask me, a PIP says more about a managers inability to manage staff. If they put you on a PIP for communications, it’s just a way where they are trying to get you to leave. SO GO. It’s easier and your record wills ay you resigned, not be fired.

  • gander2112

    Interesting. I have only had to use a PIP once in my career, and it was someone I truly wanted to turn around (she had some bad shit going on in her personal life that was really destroying her performance), and it was a mechanical exercise and period of time to termination.

    My current employer just adopted a new policy. At the start of a PIP, if the employee will agree to just go away (termination) they will get 5 months of pay. I suspect that means that we really don’t want to turn around our stragglers, and to just get them gone quickly.

    Yep, that is pretty messed up as well, and once more puts the lie to “Our Employees are our Most Valuable Asset” mantra.

    • Aaron Pailthorp

      Yah, in this market I’d take the five months and go find new work.

    • Wow! 5 months? That is incredible. I wonder if any one ever negotiated more. I mean if they are willing to give 5 months, would they be willing to give 6? Or even better, can they keep me on the payroll for the 5 months and pay out severance through the regular payroll schedule? Because then we would probably be getting benefits too? I am sure there is a business reason for this, probably looking at the stats of those turned around vs. not turned around and the length of the PIP. If the PIP is designed to be 6 months long and they are not getting the turn around success, it may be cheaper financially and emotionally on the manager to just give the 5 months. Of course, this all starts with the effort and attitude of the manager. . . Snarky huh? Great to hear from you Gander! Hope all is well in the world.

    • Liz Martinez Libbey

      They hired a new GM. I had been with the company for 2 years. Basically he handed me a pip. No sit down, no meeting, no discussion, no how to improve or anything like that. Just read and sign. I wouldn’t agree to it because a couple of things were in correct. I was very offended on how I was treated. This manager was pretty much still in training. I was still helping him on how to do things around there and how to use the system properly. He’s been there a month. Felt like he was planning this all along. I’m disgusted on how the company just disregarded me after all I did for the company. I was a loyal employee for 2 years. Then this manager went and said I was in tears leaving the building. Absolute lie!!!!! That never happened. It was like he was out the get me out. I did feel a sense of relief knowing I don’t have to work with him anymore. There was no discussion. It was sign it or part ways. I chose to part ways. He said this will be my last day. I said ok and packed my things and left with no tears or emotion.

      • Torturted Long Enough

        I have been in my company for 8 years and was always highly regarded. I have worked with the most miserable man in all of my career for the past 2 years and 7 months and I know he is compiling a case against me to put me on a PIP. I have absolutely no intention on going on this PIP. I am ready to resign when presented with this PIP. I have been destroyed enough by this man and I know it is coming. I will not allow any further destruction to take place. Glad to hear another person walked out and didn’t take it. You have to know when it’s time to go.

        • Liz Martinez Libbey

          Til this day I have not received my last pay stub. They direct deposited my last check but no pay stub. Talk about incompetence. I have asked for it and no response.

        • Tortured,
          Sorry to hear about your manager situation. If you are confident that you are going to be facing a PIP, I would recommend a couple of options and remember, I do NOT have the entire story here.

          I wouldn’t wait for the PIP. If a PIP is presented, it has a chance of coming up in reference checks with future. It shouldn’t, but the chance exists. I would try and find a new gig before the PIP is presented.

          If you are going to wait, (I would go with option 1 first), and a PIP is presented, before you resign, see about getting a severance and signing a release form. “I want to work here long term, but I want to be realistic about my long term future. I would be willing to resign today, if I can still collect unemployment (the company doesn’t question my claim) AND I get X weeks of severance.

          Again, sorry about this situation and good luck, HRN