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Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

  • 1.  Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 12-21-2021 08:42 AM
    I was wondering what this community might think about Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs). For context, I am referring to a specific document that an employee receives when it is decided that they are not meeting some of the requirements of their position. It is not a general yearly or periodic review.

    In the past, I have seen certain employees receive a PIP, and end up changing their actions and improving their performance for a long enough period of time for it to not be considered a "temporary improvement". However, I have also seen other employees receive a PIP and make no changes to their behavior, resulting in their dismissal from their position.
    I can only conclude that the value of the PIP depends on how much the person receiving the plan cares about receiving it.

    What do you think?
    Is there any value to a Performance Improvement Plan, or is it simply a formal way to start the process of removing someone from a position? 

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 2.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 12-21-2021 09:17 PM
    I'm curious about others' experience with this as well. It seems to me that these plans are a way to protect the employer and any help for the employee is only secondary to their considerations. I mean, why else would you institute such a plan?

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    Tsee Lee A.M.ASCE
    New York NY
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  • 3.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 01-06-2022 02:47 PM
    Hi Tsee!

    I think this is an interesting question. In cases where a company is employing people "at-will", I am not sure if there needs to be too much protection required to begin with. Typically, hiring, training, and onboarding new staff can be a timely and sometimes costly process. For this reason, I could see an employer using a PIP to communicate to an employee that their performance had not been up to an expected standard, and that they wished to specify where improvement can be made in order to correct the perceived issues.

    In places where employees are better protected though, I am sure that this is a tool that can be abused as well.

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 4.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 12-27-2021 11:32 AM

    I think a general bias is to view a Performance Improvement Plan as nefarious thing with termination as the ultimate objective. Objectively, a Performance Improvement Plan is a tool in the tool kit to remedy under performance or correct behaviors. I think how a company uses Performance Improvement Plan says a lot about their culture and value for employees.  Ideally, the employee has received prior feedback that they are underperforming or have behaviors counter to norms and expectations and have been given a chance to take corrective actions. The employee is given amply notification and the Performance Improvement Plan is genuinely used in a positive manner. A Performance Improvement Plan used simply as a step in the termination process to check a box shows a disregard for employees in my opinion.



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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 5.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 12-27-2021 07:46 PM
    In the two cities I have worked for, it is a requirement of the union contract.  They are time consuming to implement and monitor, and I have not seen the desired long term improvement.

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    Steve Adams P.E., M.ASCE
    City Engineer
    City of Milwaukie
    Milwaukie OR
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  • 6.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 01-06-2022 02:46 PM
    Thanks for sharing your experience with these, Steve. A time-consuming document is probably not something anyone looks forward to filling out or receiving.

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 7.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 12-29-2021 09:37 AM

    Christopher –

    Building on Mitch's comments, the PIP's can be an overall asset in managing and improving employee performance.  First off, though, you need a blunt, honest introspection that feedback with the employee up to this time has been proper and adequate.  Communication, vulnerable to failure at so many points, requires two earnest participants.  Has this been occurring?

    - The PIP does protect the employer but also protects the employee, especially if the supervisor does not do well with performance improvement with their crew mates.

    - The better PIP's are specific, targeted, conform to the job description, and are limited in scope (we are not out to cure the world's ills!) with time and improvement benchmarks.  The benchmarks preferably are measurable to reduce subjectivity in the process (admittedly tough to do with engineering).

    - If there is a long list of concerns to address, prioritize the concerns and bunch them in discrete PIP's.  Bunching related concerns helps focus the PIP and helps to assure a positive outcome.

    - If you incorporate the employee's longer term goals, you have the opportunity to change the tone of the conversation from "you're a bad employee" to "let's work together to help you reach your goals".  In this case, if a promotion is part of the long term goal, you can also use the new job description in the PIP.

    Managing and improving employee performance typically involves some form of behavior modification.  Behavior modification is a time dependent process which, in my opinion, is best accomplished in small increments tackling one concern at a time on a relatively frequent basis.  Behavior modification has not worked for me if implemented at yearly or quarterly or even monthly intervals; every two weeks seems best.

    Since we as humans tend to slip back to our preferred 'low energy states', it is important to go back to the PIP every now and then with the employee to assure continued focus and attention as needed for any course corrections, critical to achieve behavior modification.  Periodic, minor course corrections are always better for long term success (although nagging is to be avoided!).

    Which points to another important concern in this process: supervisor competency with employee development.  At a large organization at which I worked, extensive employee dissatisfaction was traced to poor supervisor performance with employee development.  In response, the organization put all current supervisors through a 5 day performance management training session. The results: not only did employee development improve but overall morale improved noticeably.  As a consequence, all new supervisors get the same training.

    The PIP process takes commitment; the success rate is not 100% and different employees (and supervisors for that matter) will need different approaches.  You'll stumble as you gain experience but a positive attitude during the process will get you past those hurdles.

    Respectfully,
    Chuck Howard, P.E. M. ASCE
    Richmond, VA



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    Charles Howard P.E., M.ASCE
    MEMBER
    Richmond VA
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  • 8.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 01-06-2022 02:46 PM
    Thanks for your thoughts Charles. I would absolutely agree that the value of the feedback form is only going to be as useful as the level of effort that a manager makes before and during the implementation of that form as well.

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 9.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 01-12-2022 11:44 AM
    Chuck-
    Would it be better to put more time and effort in developing SMART Performance Agreements and investing in the professional development of personnel? From my time as a supervisor years ago, I believe SMART stood for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. It was a challenge to do for an engineering group, but I attempted.

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    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
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  • 10.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 01-13-2022 08:19 AM

    James –

    I'm enjoying your responses to Christopher's question and the follow ups; thank you.

    With respect to SMART, I defer to Maxwell for that.  Seriously, though, as a structural engineer I never could get comfortable employing measurables for performance management / professional development.  Yes, there are lazy professionals but their tenure was usually short lived in the office – just no place to "hide"; as "bad apples", I did what I could to keep their tenure short.  As you noted, how one hires has a big role in this kind of concern.

    My preferred professional development route focused on achieving goals, short term and long term, matching up firm objectives with the professional's objectives.  Check in's, usually once a year, would assess progress on goal achievements, tend to any needed course corrections, and review whether adjusting goals and / or setting new goals were in order.  At times, quarterly reviews would be scheduled to supplement, depending on the individual and the goals.  Overall, this approach worked best for me and seemed to be well received.

    With respect to Christopher's initial question about the place for PIP's, I have used them in many different forms.  In the most literal case, where an employee is "dead man walking", the PIP can be the precursor to showing them the door; one last stab at salvation.  However, given the difficulties of finding staff, the PIP may be required as a last means of retaining as many as possible, and not because HR has mandated its use.

    I have seen the PIP go both ways – showing folks the door and finding salvation.  In the end, it's about whether the involved individuals can find common ground (goals) and be able to work to them.  Perhaps a bad metaphor, but I am trying to work out the curve in a deck board.  I've applied the clamps and now it's a matter of time with the occasional turn of the screw.  Hopefully, screws aren't involved in your PIP, but time and course corrections will be needed.  Of course, removing the clamps may result in some spring back, but not to worry, the clamps get re-applied.

    Hope all this helps.
    Chuck

     



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    Charles Howard P.E., M.ASCE
    MEMBER
    Richmond VA
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  • 11.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 01-13-2022 11:12 AM
    Charles,

    I am wondering if you could further discuss the example that you describe in your last sentence above: "Of course, removing the clamps may result in some spring back, but not to worry, the clamps get re-applied." One of my foremost worries with respect to staff management is related to my perception of this example - having an employee who only does well when someone else is holding their feet to the fire or otherwise micromanaging them. I am concerned that needing continual and repetitive PIPs or something of the same nature suggests that a person is not actually able to work independently, which may be a requirement for a role.

    Thank you for your thoughts on this and all of the above as well. 


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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 12.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?

    Posted 01-14-2022 09:59 AM

    Christopher –

    You are struggling with what is a big part of good management and leadership in knowledge based work groups; you want folks to be able to work independently and a good manager works to assure adequate resources and information for them.  But …

    How you proceed in this case depends on a lot of things; however, if the person cannot ever fulfill the requirements of their role, the role is not for them.  I don't have any answers for you; I do have questions.

    How long has this person been with the organization: were they hired for the role or were they assigned the role from within the organization?

    If assigned from within the organization, is this a promotion and has the promotion gotten them to their level of incompetence (Peter Principle)?  Were they fully informed of the requirements for this role?  Should they be demoted?

    Can this person be a positive contributor to the organization?  Is this the right role for that person to do so?  Are there other roles that better match the person's strengths?
    Is this person competent at their work?  Do they understand their assignments?
    Do they offer to assist others within the work group? Do others seek out their opinion or advice?  Do they contribute at meetings and group discussions?

    What is the firm's approach to risk taking?  Are successful risk takers rewarded?  Are unsuccessful risk takers penalized?  Does the firm's environment foster reasonable risk taking?  How might this affect an employee's work?

    What happens when an employee stumbles?  Are they picked up, dusted off, given some guidance and then sent back out there?  How might this affect an employee's work?

    What is the firm's culture and how does this person fit in?  Does this person bounce up on the dance floor when everyone else bounces down?  How might this affect an employee's work?

    We want others to succeed, especially our reports; sometimes this blinds us to their limits or we take bad risks regarding their abilities in the interest of getting things done.  This is a constant fight for managers, most concernedly when the reports are also friends.  You'll find your personal sweet spot for managing and leading people and you'll have scars as a result.  But their success is your success and that becomes its own reward.

    Regards,
    Chuck

     



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    Charles Howard P.E., M.ASCE
    MEMBER
    Richmond VA
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  • 13.  RE: Is there a value to a Performance Improvement Plan?