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Susan M. Heathfield

Is a PIP the First Step in Firing an Employee?

By May 27, 2014

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Interested in performance improvement plans? PIPs are a popular topic with readers because so many organizations do them wrong and use them for all of the wrong reasons. I receive many questions from readers in email and when a question might interest other readers, I share them. Can you add to my advice from your experience?

Reader Question:

In terms of Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs), how does a manager do them? Is it appropriate for the manager to go "fishing" for feedback from other managers about the person on the PIP?

For example, if someone is serving their client group, and is put on a PIP, how does the manager find out if building trust has improved for the person on the PIP without asking each week for feedback from the client group? Is this the right procedure?

Also, in your experience, do PIP's really work? Or are they usually just a start of a paper trail to build up legal defense to fire someone? I am a fellow human resources professional and I have not had experience administering PIPs before and I don't know if my boss is doing them right?

My Response:

Yes, I have seen PIPs succeed many times and sometimes they don't succeed, too. With motivated employees who went astray, it is as if you finally got their attention. I sometimes liken a PIP to hitting someone up side their head with a two by four since no other performance coaching seemed to be working. (Really, I'm a non-violent person.)

Following a successful PIP, the key for the manager is vigilance. You cannot allow the employee to slip back into the performance that earned him or her the PIP in the first place. I never do a second PIP because, at some point, our adult employees need to take responsibility for his or her own performance and success. (To be honest, I don't really like to do them the first time because of the manager's and the Human Resources staff time they take for development and feedback. And, one more time, these are adults. Right?)

To answer the next part of your question, it is appropriate for a manager to confidentially solicit employee feedback or improvement from another manager, as long as that manager is the customer of the employee's service. Feedback from another manager is also appropriate if the second manager directs part of the employee's work or a team on which the employee participates. It is not appropriate to solicit performance feedback from employees, unless the solicitation is part of an informal or formal 360 feedback process.

A PIP is often the start of paperwork that will eventually result in employment termination. That should not be the goal of the PIP although I suspect, in many organizations, it is. With this potential in mind, however, you need to make sure that:

  • the goals are completely relevant to the job,
  • enough detail exists to enable the employee to succeed,
  • as much as possible, the goals are measurable, or if not measurable, the expected outcomes are described in such a way that the manager, HR and the employee can agree whether they were reached or not.

Meet with the employee every couple of weeks to discuss progress. Document all follow-up meetings and progress - or lack thereof. If you see little progress occurring despite these best efforts, it's time to consider firing the employee.

Perhaps readers will add to what I have suggested from their experience. Please respond in comments.

Image Copyright iStockphoto / Sheryl Griffin

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