Your Boss Put You on a Performance Improvement Plan, Now What?
At around this time about two years ago, I got a call from my friend Elsie asking me to help her find a new job.
This caught me by surprise, since she had been working with the firm for a while, and it seemed to me that she was happy at her job.
So, what had made her decide to look for a new job all of a sudden?
Turns out, she had just been put on a performance improvement plan and felt that she was about to lose her job.
Despite being put on a performance improvement plan, she didn’t end up losing her job.
Actually, what reminded me of the incident is the fact that she called me with the news that she had just received a promotion (at the same company where she was put on a performance improvement plan), and I felt that it would be a good time to talk about performance improvement plans.
When I ask people what they fear most about performance reviews, a high number of them mention that they are very much afraid of being put on a performance improvement plan.
Most people assume that being put on a performance improvement plan automatically means that they are on their way out the door.
However, this is not always true.
The fact that you haven’t met some performance expectations does not necessarily mean that you suck at your job.
It just means that there are areas that you need to improve to enhance your performance.
Of course, there are some people have lost their jobs over the years after being put on a performance improvement plan.
However, these typically happens when an employee is unable to meet the conditions set out in the performance improvement plan.
Actually, being put on a performance improvement plan should be taken as a positive sign, because it shows that the organization views you as a valuable employee and believes that the performance issue you are going through is fixable.
If they didn’t think you were valuable, or if they didn’t believe that your issue is fixable, you’d be shown the door without any chance to get your act together.
In this article, we are going to look at what you need to do in case your boss puts you on a performance improvement plan.
But before we get there, let’s first understand what a performance improvement plan is.
WHAT IS A PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT PLAN
A performance improvement plan is a document that highlights any recurring performance issues together with areas of improvement suggested for the employee, and a specific timeline for making the improvements.
The areas of improvement are normally suggested to give you the chance to maintain goodwill with the organization.
In simple terms, it’s like when a student makes a mistake in class, and the teacher gives them probation time in which they are supposed to think about what they have done and promise to improve on their behavior.
Therefore, unlike the punitive measure that most employees assume it to be, it can be regarded as a corrective measure aimed at doing away with certain behavior and improving others in order to ensure organizational goals are met.
If you have been put on a performance improvement plan, the HR manager will most likely call you to talk about it to ensure that you understand what the expected outcomes of the performance improvement plan are.
But as many HR managers will tell you, it does not mean you are about to be fired.
If the company had wanted to fire you, they would have just done it without the need to first put you on a performance improvement plan.
The performance improvement plan is therefore a chance for a comeback, an opportunity for you to learn about your weaknesses, a time for you to re-think your strategies and tactics and most importantly, a chance for you to be better.
A performance improvement plan will constitute the following:
- A written document of the performance issue
- A detailed description of the expected outcomes of the employee’s behavior
- A resources allocation section to support the employee in enhancing performance
- A follow-up plan that includes timeframes, meeting schedules, and the milestones that have been established between the manager and the employee.
- The consequences of failure to meet outcomes
PURPOSE OF A PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT PLAN
Some of the reasons why you might be put on a performance improvement plan include:
To Identify Substandard Performance
The first reason your employer would put you on a performance improvement plan is to identify substandard performance and make you realize that your performance is not meeting expectations.
Therefore, the performance improvement plan will detail specific areas that you are deficient in and that are affecting your work performance.
The second thing it will detail is an improvement plan which could be on-the-job training or actual coaching.
When you are not performing, the organization is also not performing, and a performance improvement plan is usually viewed as a chance to identify the substandard performance with an aim to rectify.
To Document Substandard Performance
Perhaps this is the greatest reason why most employees fear being put on a performance improvement plan, because the plan can serve as evidence of your underperformance if the organization decides to fire you.
In case you get fired and decide to file a complaint for wrongful dismissal, the performance improvement plan serves as evidence that you were indeed not meeting your performance expectations.
To Identify Behaviors Contributing To Substandard Performance
A performance improvement plan identifies recurring behavior that contributes to the substandard performance.
You may not be aware of any such behavior, but perhaps your manager has been noticing it.
Maybe you have been arriving later than usual, maybe you spend too much time on the internet, or it probably lies in the way you have been treating fellow employees or customers.
To Deter Reoccurrence of Improper Behavior
Employers have specific work guidelines, and rules stipulated for employees.
Those regulations are established to ensure organizational goals are met.
When the manager puts you on a performance improvement plan, there is a chance that there is something you are doing which is against company policy and they want to put a stop to that behavior.
Putting you on a performance improvement plan serves as a deterrence to the behavior both for you and other employees.
To Enable Employees to Develop Certain Skills
Contrary to popular opinion, performance improvement plans are not meant to punish you.
They are meant to help you correct some behavior that might be contributing to your non-performance.
In the process of working towards achieving the improvement milestones set out in the performance improvement plan, you might also end up developing some key skills.
For instance, when on a performance improvement plan, you have to meet the conditions set out in the plan, in addition to working on your regular assignments.
This might force you to develop time management skills in order to ensure you meet both objectives.
All you need is to have a positive attitude and to open up yourself to learn and experience new things which will improve your performance.
To Improve Performance
The ultimate goal of a performance improvement plan is to help you improve your performance on the job.
The performance improvement plan makes an employee aware of substandard performance, identifies the behavior that contributes to it, enables the development of skills and abilities, deters maladaptive behavior and provides you a course of action to correct whatever issue it causing the non-performance.
It is thus a chance for you to improve yourself and your performance so that you improve your job security and contribute to the organizational goals.
While I have said that the performance improvement plan shows that the organization values you and is giving you a chance to fix whatever issue is causing your non-performance, it also shows that you are fast approaching the end of your leash.
Your job is riding on the outcome of the performance improvement plan.
If you are unable to meet the conditions set out in the plan, there is a very high chance that you will lose your job.
Therefore, you should not take the performance improvement plan lightly.
Remember that the performance improvement plan is a legal document, one that gives the organization a valid reason for letting you go.
WHAT TO DO AFTER BEING PUT ON A PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT PLAN
Your performance at work has been slacking, and your boss has put you on a performance improvement plan.
If you have been put on a performance improvement plan, below are some tips on how to handle the situation.
When placed on a performance improvement plan, the first thought that comes to mind is that you are about to lose your job.
This can lead to anxiety and emotional overwhelm, which can easily cause you to do or say something you might regret later.
Therefore, after being notified that you have been put on a performance improvement plan, the first thing you need to do is to try to calm down.
As we have already seen, a performance improvement plan does not necessarily mean that you are about to get fired, so there is no need to panic.
Do something to help you remain calm as you process the news. If necessary, you can even take a walk and get some fresh air as you process the news.
Assess the Situation
Once you have taken a breather, it is time to evaluate the situation you are in.
The first thing to ask yourself is why you are on a performance improvement plan in the first place.
Is it something you have been put on before, or is it the first time?
If you have been put on a performance improvement plan before, you need to remember the reasons why you placed on the improvement plan.
Was it poor customer feedback, failure to meet deadlines?
Whatever reason, you need to jot it down and reflect on it for a while.
If it’s something for which you have been put under a performance improvement plan before, maybe you need to think about further and come up with interventions that will work this time.
If it’s the first time that you have been put on performance improvement plan, then you need to consult your manager for further clarification especially if it’s a behavior that you hadn’t noticed yourself.
Once you have identified the reason why you have been put on a performance improvement plan, you need to reflect whether the role in which you failed at matches your personal and career goals.
You also need to evaluate similar situations where employees have been put on a performance improvement plan and determine what the company culture is in such instances.
You also need to analyze the relationship between your manager and yourself and determine if she or he is willing to help you throughout the course of your performance improvement plan.
If you find out that you have actually been slacking in fulfilling your duties, that the company culture is oriented towards employee improvement, and that you have a trustworthy relationship with your manager, then, by all means, the best thing to do in this case is to start working on improving your performance.
If, on the other hand, your company is more oriented towards letting employees go rather than helping them improve, and if you have doubts that your boss will be willing to help you improve your performance, it might be time to start hunting for a new job.
Decide If It Is Worth It
You might do this in the previous step since this step is more of a continuation of the previous one, but I would advise you look at it as a separate step.
In the previous step, you wanted to assess the situation that led to you being put on a performance improvement plan.
In this step, you want to review if it’s actually worth it going through with the performance improvement plan, or if it is much better to start looking for greener pastures.
I would advise you to put your emotions aside when reviewing the performance improvement plan.
While it is true that most companies use the performance improvement plan as a way to improve your performance, the reality is that some employers will use it to fire you.
Therefore, you need to decide if it is worth it going through with the plan. If your manager is not willing to schedule a meeting with you to talk about the performance improvement plan, then this could be a sign that you should be looking for a new job.
You also want to review the plan to evaluate whether it is humanly possible to meet the conditions set out in the plan.
If your performance improvement plan requires you to bring in twenty new clients by the end of the week, then you might just hand in your resignation letter.
Make sure you have read all the sections of the performance improvement plan to ensure that you understand what is required of you.
The document requires your signature, and you do not want to sign anything that might get you fired.
Once you have read through and decided that it is worth it, then sign the document, keep a copy for yourself and begin working on your performance improvement plan.
Take It Seriously And Commit Your Self
While we have discussed that a performance improvement plan is more or less like probation, the risks involved and the consequences are entirely different.
We have also seen that the performance improvement plan might be used to terminate your employment if you are unable to meet the conditions set out in the plan.
You therefore need to take it seriously and commit yourself to the goals of the plan.
While it does not mean that you will get fired, some companies take it as a warning to their employees.
They have realized a certain gap in the accomplishment of your tasks which relates to the performance of the organization, and that’s why they have given you a chance for redemption.
Therefore, meeting the goals of the performance improvement plan is critical to the organization and the only guarantee that you will still retain your job.
The good thing about a performance improvement plan is that it is usually specific and detailed and will advise on what to do so as to achieve the goals set out in the plan.
You should really take some time going through the plan to ensure that you fully understand what is needed of you.
Come up with a to-do list and other tools to help you accomplish whatever is set out in the plan.
Commitment is also a necessary element for the success of a performance improvement plan. You want to show your employers that you are committed to the task at hand and the surest way of doing this is committing your time.
You might want to call your friends and cancel any other plans you might have had and commit that time to your performance improvement plan. Tell the manager that you are going all in and actualize that.
You might even decide to put in extra hours to ensure that your time on the performance improvement plan is superseding expectations.
Do the extra work with pride and make sure that your performance exceeds that of others.
When your manager sees how willing you are to ensure you accomplish the goals set out in the performance improvement plan, they will see that you are committed to the goals of the company.
Ask for Help
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but an acknowledgment that we are aware of our limitations and are not afraid of enlisting others to help us get better.
Therefore, do not be afraid to ask for help just because you are on a performance improvement plan.
For instance, you might come across a task that you need to accomplish but don’t know how to, but then get tempted to not ask for help because it might show that you are not really good at your job.
Resist the temptation not to ask for help, because only by asking for help will you learn how to accomplish that task.
Asking for help is a strength, and your manager will be willing to help you if they are certain you are committed to improving your performance.
When you are on a performance improvement plan, it shows there is something that you haven’t been able to do on your own, and therefore there is nothing wrong with asking others to help you if this is what will help you improve.
Be Open to Learning And Have a Positive Attitude
Being put on a performance improvement plan is an opportunity for learning and unlearning behavior so be open to it. It gives you a chance to redefine yourself, to test your limits, to change and to grow.
The only way you improve your performance and learn something from it is to have a positive attitude. Attitude has been the make-or-break central factor since time immemorial.
Only a positive attitude can get you through a performance improvement plan.
When we began discussing what you should do when put on a performance improvement plan, we said you should control your emotions.
Employees with high emotional stability are able to get through an emotionally challenging situation because they face it with a positive attitude.
Therefore, have a positive attitude and open up yourself to learning and accomplishing the tasks detailed in your performance improvement plan and grow.
You Have Learned, Now Move On
Congratulations now that you have come this far! If you successfully complete the objectives set out in your performance improvement plan, you have reason to celebrate, because it is not always that employees are able to achieve the conditions set out in their performance improvement plans.
Getting through the performance improvement plan serves as evidence of your attitude, commitment to learning, motivation, and organizational commitment.
When you complete a performance improvement plan, it is a sign of success.
While many would have panicked and quit their job, you took it bravely, acknowledged that you haven’t been performing your job effectively and worked with the organization to ensure that your performance improved.
You took the time to reflect, contacted your mentors and associates and truly committed yourself to ensure positive outcomes. What is more, you maintained a positive attitude through it all.
You learnt, you grew and made improvements, and now it’s time to move on.
Remember you will still go through a performance review so make sure your energy lasts through this period. In the performance review, show your manager and the team that the performance improvement plan was a learning process and that your performance has improved.
Give specific details about what you learnt and your vision for the future and make sure it is in line with organizational goals.
As an employee, you should always give your best at work to avoid being put on a performance improvement plan.
If you happen to be put on one, however, there is no need to panic. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are about to be fired.
Instead, you are being given a chance to fix your mistakes.
Simply acknowledge that your performance has been under par, and then commit yourself to correcting the issue and improving your performance.
If you happen to get fired after being placed on a performance improvement plan, and this does happen in some cases, take it gracefully and move on.
Furthermore, it might be for the best.
You could have been holding on to a job that was not the best for you, and this is your chance to go after the job you have always dreamt about.
Give yourself a chance, carry all your life skills, failures and accomplishments – they are part of who you are – and move on.
Just make sure you do not get on another performance improvement plan.