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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Every Question You Have About Being on a Performance Improvement Plan

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If you ask your network what the three scariest words during performance review season are, there’s a good chance you’ll hear “performance improvement plan” from more than a few people.

Performance Improvement Plans (or PIPs) get a bad rap. And many people equate being put on one with being fired (which is only sometimes true).

While the seriousness of them shouldn’t be ignored, if you are put on a PIP, know that all hope is not lost. You have the power to turn your performance around—and save your job!

But Wait, What’s a Performance Improvement Plan?

A performance improvement plan is a formal document stating any recurring performance issues along with goals that an employee needs to achieve in order to regain good standing at the company (usually with a specific timeline to complete the plan). If you’re being put on a PIP, your manager and HR will most likely meet with you to go over it and answer any questions you may have.

In layman’s terms, it’s like being put on probation when you’re in school—you’re going to be watched closely during this period. If you aren’t successful in completing your PIP at the end of the timeline, losing your job is usually the end result.

If you’ve been struggling to meet your goals, a PIP is meant to give you concrete ways to turn your performance around. For most, simply knowing exactly what they can do to improve is enough to make their way out of a slump (meaning it’s definitely possible to succeed on one!).

I’m on a PIP—Does That Mean I Should Start Packing Up My Things?

Definitely not! Think about it—if your company really wanted to fire you, they wouldn’t take the time to create a plan to help you meet your goals.

However, you should remember that if you don’t meet the requirements in your PIP, there will be repercussions (which should be outlined in it).

Got It, So How Can I Make Sure I Successfully Complete My PIP?

Communication with your manager and/or HR is crucial. If you’re struggling to hit any of your goals or you’re confused about what’s expected of you, check in to see if your boss has any tips to help you become crystal clear on what you need to do. Doing this also shows that you’re proactive and taking this seriously.

Throughout your PIP, you should check in with your manager regularly on your progress. Checking in as often as you can will give you the ability to course correct any potential roadblocks early on and set yourself up for success.

Also, take some of your high-performing peers out for coffee and ask them how they stay focused on their goals. Find someone who’s awesome at what you struggle with and pick their brain about how you can change your strategy.

And, most importantly, stay positive! You can do this—think about all you’re going to accomplish after you knock your PIP out of the park. Confidence in your own ability to improve will make it enormously easier to actually do it.

No, But I Really Think My Boss Is Just Trying to Get Rid of Me Legally….

Unfortunately, the reality at some companies is that they use PIPs to document a firing in advance. If you suspect this may be the case (if, for example, the goals you’re supposed to hit seem impossible to achieve by any standards), you might want to get a head start on pre-job-searching so you’re prepared for the worst. It stinks that this is the case, but wouldn’t you rather work for a company that actually cares about and supports your success?

So, take this time to update your resume, polish your LinkedIn, and dip your toes into networking for new opportunities, if you haven’t already.

And, before you jump into any next job, think about whatever it is in your current role that’s making it hard for you to succeed. Is it a factor of the environment of your current company, or something you won’t be able to avoid if you continue working in your current field? You should use this time to decide what you’d be looking for in a new role so that if you aren’t able to complete your PIP, you can immediately find something that’s a better fit (and won’t lead to another one down the road).

I’ve Successfully Completed My Plan! Is My Boss Going to Hold This Against Me Forever?

Congratulations! If you’ve successfully completed your plan, this should actually be something that you can reference in future conversations with your boss.

Remember: You acknowledged your shortcomings, took charge of your performance, and came out an even better employee than you were before—so make sure your boss notes that, too. You’re driven, tenacious, and capable of change, and you have the documentation to show it, which is a lot more than many employees can say.

Keeping all this in mind, hopefully you feel empowered heading into performance review season. Remember, a performance improvement plan isn’t necessarily the end. Whether you complete the plan successfully or move on to new opportunities, this could be the beginning of an even more exciting chapter in your career.

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