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This question does not answer mine I received a written warning for my performance, how can I save my job?

That was about a specific instance where an employee was doomed, as per his updates. I am not asking to save my job or anyone else's, but rather asking what SPECIFIC strategies could be taken to survive a PIP

Is a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) nothing more than an evidence gathering exercise, and thus an exercise in futility attempting to meet the goals, or are there specific strategies that one can employ to survive, and/or even come back from one to prosper at one's company?

What can one do to survive a PIP?


(I haven't been put on one, I'm just curious.)

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    dup of workplace.stackexchange.com/q/22041/2322 ?
    – enderland
    Aug 9, 2016 at 21:41
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    Kiss everything that presents itself to you? Most times I have seen a PIP in real life, they're not meant to be survivable.
    – Kilisi
    Aug 9, 2016 at 21:47
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    Nope. Start job hunting.
    – prieber
    Apr 23, 2021 at 21:47
  • It depends on the outcome the company wants to achieve. If the employee has previously been capable it can be the nudge they need to get back on track. If the employee is incapable, and you don't want to pay redundancy, then they won't be survivable.
    – DWGKNZ
    Dec 20, 2021 at 18:05
  • @Old_Lamplighter Yeah, I misread the original date & time this was posted. I deleted my original comment as there is little point in fixing old duplicates.
    – David
    Dec 30, 2021 at 18:10

6 Answers 6

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It depends on the company, management and details of the PIP involved. In the vast majority of cases a PIP is simply the last formality management takes before firing someone. It's usually the result of rigid HR policies or an overly stringent interpretation of said policies.

Decent management won't let a situation escalate to the point where a PIP is all that's left: the employee who's struggling will get early feedback and he'll be told what his manager expects from someone in his position and what he needs to see change. If those changes don't become evident, the conversations become progressively more serious. Eventually you'll basically have an informal PIP where the employee is told that his manager needs to see X done with Y by Z or he'll have to be let go. You could call that a PIP, many managers don't.

In some cases, you can recover from a PIP. But those situations are rare and usually the result of someone either being thrown in the deep end but adapting quickly, usually after being hired in a position above his skill level, or dealing with personal issues that significantly impacted his performance but have since been resolved. Remember that some companies have unreasonable expectations of their employees that can approach exploitation.

What you should do to survive one is:

  • do everything the PIP says:
    • X issues closed per day
    • backlog of Y reduced to #%
    • Z new developments done each week
    • registry shortages below $10
    • no valid customer complaints
    • ...
  • figure out where you went wrong: why are you on a PIP? You need to figure out what level of performance your manager wants to see and make sure that you can attain and sustain it. Just hitting the bullet points in the PIP probably isn't enough, as HLGEM mentioned you need to avoid dropping the ball at any point during the PIP
  • get at least weekly feedback from your manager to check if you're on the right track or what else you should do
  • take extra care to be professional and collegial
  • be punctual: get to work on time or even early, make sure you put in at least your eight hours, submit timesheets on time, don't forget deadlines

Realise that even if you meet all these points, the PIP could still be a formality or excuse. Unless you're in one of the situations I described, the best strategy for you is probably to update your resume and start applying for jobs. The odds are sadly stacked against you. And remember that it's not enough to just make it through the PIP: that document describes a minimum level of performance that you need to reach and your goal should usually be to excel at your work not survive it. Even if you're okay with mediocrity, which is a valid way of approaching work, you need to at least maintain your performance once the PIP ends.

Finally, I highly recommend reading this article by Alison Green which covers most of the same points, including the harsh lesson that most PIPs cannot be recovered from: what to do when you’re put on a performance improvement plan

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    I would add, don't cause trouble to your manager in any other way. Now is not the time to have to be pushed to do your timesheet or show up late or leave early or miss a deadline without discussing the issue well in advance, or drop the ball on some other task not covered by the PIP.
    – HLGEM
    Aug 9, 2016 at 21:12
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    @HLGEM Thanks for the suggestion, I've updated my answer.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 10, 2016 at 8:04
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+200

I have been part of implementing a PIP on three occasions, two of which at the company I'm at, currently.

In all three of them, our desired outcome was to salvage the employee. Recruiting, training, and retaining employees is an effort that you just don't appreciate until you have to do it.

It's like buying a car in reverse. When you buy a car, you put down a lot of money, and you drive off with a perfect machine. It does everything it's supposed to, and does it reliably. You make your payments as the machine slowly deteriorates, has major repairs, and eventually loses most of its value after seven years. When you hire an employee, you put down a lot of money/effort in recruitment, and have someone who is of limited value to the organization, but as you make your payments, they gain experience. You invest in training, and they develop more capabilities. After seven years (usually less), you have an employee who can perform wonderfully in 4 to 6 key roles, who represents your organization well, and brings value to your team every day.

Now, if you've been there 2 or 3 years, most of the "up-front" costs are paid for. The employee should be very productive in 1 to 3 areas, and be relatively well self-directed. That's where the "payoff" occurs. All the effort you've put into recruiting and training starts to show up in someone you can genuinely count on.

No reasonable employer wants to lose all that investment by just firing you outright. Whatever the problem is, a PIP is there to retain that investment. Sure, a supervisor may not see that, but a manager should, and directors and VP's actually have to account for it.

However, there's a rotten little secret about PIP's: They never address the ROOT issue. They address the symptoms: Attendance, productivity, technical skill, etc. Most of the time the root problem is attitude. RARELY is an inability to learn a skill a problem. Putting the effort into learning skills may be. Mishandling a customer issues isn't the problem. A failure to understand the customer or care about the issue is the problem.

If you're facing a PIP, look at their specific issues. Those are the SYMPTOMS. Now, what is the PROBLEM? Fix the problem, and the symptoms resolve themselves. Treat the symptoms, and the problem will reassert itself later. THAT's why PIP plans rarely work. You can't tell an employee, "Your attitude stinks!" You tell them, "Your customer service satisfaction rate is low." The reasons are many and varied. A "Bad attitude" claim is subjective, and difficult to defend in a wrongful termination suit. A "Customer Satisfaction Percentage" score is objective and easy to prove.

So, if you want to survive the PIP, you have to figure out what your PROBLEM is, and fix that.

Not to lay it all on you, though. You can't make an elephant fly. If you're in the wrong job or career, you need to face that possibility, too.

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    So, if you want to survive the PIP, you have to figure out what your PROBLEM is, and fix that. - Exactly this. The company sets the bar that they want to see from you, its up to you to figure out what the problem is and fix it. If you figure out the problem but do not know how to properly address it your company probably has resources available to help you, and may be willing to give you more time to fix the problem if it is apparent you are trying. Aug 10, 2016 at 14:53
  • As a note, there is at least one management system out there that deliberately turns over 5..10% of the workforce annually, based primarily on a single criteria of (what your manager considers to be) "leadership". If a company has a lot of job openings every year vs. its size, this may be the cause. Jul 6, 2020 at 18:58
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It really depends on the manager and corporate culture.

In some places a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) is a sure sign that they want you gone and are just dotting i's and crossing t's.

For others, they genuinely want the employee to succeed. They're hopeful that the employee gets the message and improves their performance.

I'm an optimist and want to think most PIPs are of the latter category. I'm also a realist and it's waaaay less expensive to keep an improved employee as opposed to firing then hiring, and training a replacement.

If you're put on a PIP, you know your manager and company and should be able to deduce which bucket you're in. Either way, it's time to get to work, either polishing your resume or following your PIP.

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  • Agree it's very much down to company culture. When I was a Manager the objective of a PIP was to get someone back on track, if we didn't think they could do it we didn't bother with one. A PIP is a lot of work for the Manager / HR etc - no point in it if you don't think there is a good chance the employee can make it.
    – deep64blue
    Dec 21, 2021 at 9:46
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Every PIP I have seen was for the sole purpose of getting rid of the employee, and the only one that I was on was just the same and since it was third World was very very nasty.

I survived temporarily by being incredibly obsequious, putting up with swearing, and running around doing much more than my job description, until I landed another job at which time I left with zero notice waving a finger.

I have never seen any other kind of PIP. Most employees can be salvaged without a formal PIP, if they can't then it's a sign of a totally dysfunctional employee or very bad management.

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    Sorry, just truing to picture you as ever being obsequious.... Aug 10, 2016 at 10:13
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    @RichardU I'll do whatever I have to do, lose a battle to win a war ;)
    – Kilisi
    Aug 10, 2016 at 10:22
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    @Kilisi totally agree with you, sadly went through that too and it could have been avoided if management had put processes in place such as 'daily stand-ups', or 'career development meetings' to identify impediments early then coaching and mentoring their colleague. Some managers just don't care, that is the problem.
    – bobo2000
    Feb 20, 2017 at 15:53
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From what I've observed in my country (Australia), PIP's are designed to terminate the employee and reduce the risk of the employer being sued or reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman for unfair dismissal or bullying. The way most of them are written, you'd have to be about perfect NOT to fall short in at least a couple of areas.

If the relationship has reached that stage, far better to come to a settlement or, at worst, resign. Better than being fired.

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PIPs can have different functions depending on the company. In many cases, it's indeed a device to facilitate the departure of an unwanted employee. The outcome falls under "Unregretted Attrition Rate" (UAR), the KPI used by a company with a target % of personnel turnover for each year. To survive a PIP, you first need to know if it's SURVIVABLE in your organisation. For example, one of the most toxic corporations out there has a PIP plan which is essential to maintain the organisation's UAR quota, but around 30% of employees survive the PIP. The catch? In this specific case, the line manager is not expected to track any progress. 100% of PIP progress has to be tracked and documented by the employee. This means:

  • work against your KPIs and role description. it doesn't matter if your company says "KPIs don't matter": if you have a role description with KPIs, make sure you deliver against that. Anything else is secondary, or detrimental to survival.

  • build your reputation in the company. Make sure that your departure becomes a defeat for your line manager. If other stakeholders (managers and doers) value you highly, it's much harder for your manager and HR to get rid of you without creating trouble.

  • to hit KPIs and to be highly valued is not enough: document all your activities, and make sure you don't fall behind in tracking your work. In case of doubt, match your time spent against your KPIs.

If you do this, in the best case scenario you will manage to survive the PIP because of evidence, good practices and peer pressure. In the worst case scenario, the evidence you built will help you obtain a substantial settlement agreement (depending on the country laws, of course).

This is how you survive a PIP. Whether it's worth it or it's possible to do this, in your specific situation, is something only you can know.

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