Does receiving a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) suggest that a company wants to lay a person off or fire him? If an individual is given this form should he apply to other companies?
Yes, that is a sign that your performance needs to improve and quickly. You can get a PIP and turn things around and be successful at that company. But if you can't or won't do what is on the plan, that is a sign you will be let go.
Even if you are doing what is on the plan, it would be a good idea to start looking. Some managers truly want you to do better and will accept it when you do. Others are just going through the motions, and may want you gone for reasons on the PIP or other reasons that they don't say. It might be hard to tell which kind of manager you have, although if he is normally pretty reasonable, then you still have a chance in this job.
If you have a good manager, now is the time to talk to him. Apologize, tell him what you plan to do to turn things around, and ask him if there are other things you need to do (if you have any confusion on what the PIP is saying). Take it seriously, and let him know you take it seriously. Even if you decide to look for another job (and you should be at least looking), letting him know you are seriously working on this should give you more time to find that other job.
Even if you choose to look for other jobs, you should seriously try to meet the conditions of the PIP. You may learn things that will help you in your next job. You may find that you can be successful at this place before you find another job. There is no down side to trying to fix your problems.
People who are unsuccessful at meeting expectations tend to have that problem in more than one job in part because they don't know how to identify what is expected or because they don't take their boss's expectations seriously. You need to learn how to understand what the boss expects and give it to him before you go on to another job. Specific expectations will be different at different jobs, but knowing how to deal with your boss's expectations is something you need in every job. The PIP should be a wake up call that something is seriously wrong with what you are doing. Fix it before going on to another job.
Yes, it definitely means your job is on the line, if it isn't a foregone conclusion already. Companies may implement PIPs not so much to give you a chance to recover but to document your lack of performance in case you try to sue them for firing you. I know someone going on a PIP at a major company you all will recognize and he said that it is virtually impossible to recover from one at his company. It would be advisable to look for another job as soon as possible while striving to increase performance just in case.
Unless you are your own boss (i.e. own your own business), your job is ALWAYS on the line.
When that statement is in writing somewhere (e.g. a PIP), that means you need to step up to the plate and take ownership of the responsibilities placed on you or else they'll find someone who is actually willing to do the job. Can you blame an employer for wanting their employees to operate at peak performance? To see if you can meet the expectations, set a timeframe for yourself (e.g. two weeks) and seriously try to meet expectations during that time. If, at the end of that time, you still find yourself not meeting them, you should simply quit before you get fired. It might be a case of unrealistic expectations for the position, which isn't unheard of - many employers today are demanding too much from fewer employees than the organization can actually support and should be re-hiring more people to shift some of the burden, which they will be forced to do anyway as fatigue and burnout sets in - but it could also be that you aren't ready or capable to handle the load. In either case, getting fired for any reason never looks good to other employers.
That said, the PIP is a formality usually following verbal feedback regarding performance. If the PIP is out of the blue without any prior verbal notice and the employee handbook doesn't clarify how PIPs work, then you should just go ahead and start looking for a new job. The employer that can't be bothered to clearly spell out their processes for employee management in writing isn't worth working for in the first place. If you submit your resignation, there's usually an exit interview, during which you can clarify this rather important point to them - of course, be civil/professional so as to leave on a good note and not burn your bridges.
There is an easy way to make sure you are meeting expectations both for yourself and your employer: Sticky notes. Every day, write down the day of the week (i.e. Monday, Tuesday, ...) and write down the major things you do (i.e. things that occupy at least an hour of time) during the day on a standard wide/rectangular sticky note. A week's worth of work fits comfortably on one sticky note. At the end of the week, put the date in the corner. You now have a reference to look back on and clearly spell out what was accomplished during each week. You also have a simple way to check against the expectations sheet at the end of the aforementioned personal two week trial period AND something you can take to the PIP review meeting to show that your performance is meeting expectations. This approach also starts the formation of a nice history that allows you to quickly look back over a whole year if someone wants to know when something was done that you did 8 months ago. If, at the end of a day, you can't write down anything of note on the sticky note, then you know you failed to do anything useful. Tomorrow is a new day though, during which you can decide to show marked improvement.
PIP is an indication that you aren't performing to the expected level. The reason for putting you into a PIP is to scale you up to the expectations that the manager/organization has out of you. Does it signal your end at the company? Depends on how you perform under PIP. If you continue to lag behind, your manager might consider letting you off. Sometimes (very rare cases), he/she might give you a chance and move you to a different team to see how you perform. In case you do well under a PIP, you will be retained.
Remember, if the organisation was not happy with you and wanted to let you go, they wouldn't have put you in a PIP in the first place (why waste money on someone they are sure to let go off?). By putting you under PIP, they want to give you another chance. Use this opportunity to prove yourself worthy to the organisation.
PS: I have PIP at the place where I work. But the decision to put someone under PIP before letting go is a manager's call (They might as well fire you without a PIP). Hence you might have to check with your organisational policies on the same.