Article (October-2018)

Articles

Employee Separation - The PIP Story - Oct. 2018

Sanjeev Himachali

Designation : -   Management Consultant & Talent Strategist

Organization : -  Ecliptic HR Solutions Private Limited, Pune

01-Oct-2018

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Hi! I am Anil Saxena, working as a 'People Manager' in an organization. The case will take you through an experience of mine I had in dealing with an 'Employee's Non-performance'.
It was 17th Aug at about 10.30 AM; I received a call from Mr. Yogesh Sharma, CEO of our company, asking me to meet him in his cabin. Since those were the initial days (hardly 3 months) of my association in the new assignment, obviously I was nervous owing to the fact that this was not there in the agenda for the day and I was yet to complete the probation period of 6 months. This was the natural sense of fear that normally prevails, especially when we are amongst new people and new environment.
As I walked towards Mr. Yogesh's cabin, I heard Mr. Sourabh Mathur (VP - Production) behind me wishing me good luck. Seeing him near the CEO Chambers mounted my curiosity on who else would be there in the meeting & the agenda.
At the CEO's chamber, after extending professional courtesies of wishing each other, Mr. Sourabh initiated the discussion on Ms. Natasha Suri who worked as 'Quality Control Manager' in his division. It had been 7 years she got associated with the company & was the only Six Sigma Master Black Belt in the company. As Mr. Sourabh started speaking, I made a note of his complaints….and the list was considerably long :
"She often by-passes the reporting hierarchy; She marks mails to all who's who in the company in CC whenever she needs an approval (or) asked to submit report; She often skips her monthly performance review meetings; She blames her seniors and others for her failure; She doesn't accept accountability for any task. I ask her certain simple & curious questions on the work front, she thinks I am novice & incompetent; She is very rude and unprofessional towards her other colleagues and juniors; She often picks-up arguments with them; In the last ONE year, she has taken more than 60 days of paid leave."
And then there was a long silence……
Having listened patiently, our CEO identified with Mr. Sourabh's concerns and sought our views on the ways to fix her behavior. While I suggested for a verbal/written warning letter advising her to change her ways at work, Mr. Sourabh told that she was warned several times and could see no improvement. As such he was of the view that "She is no longer required in this company. She is just spoiling the office culture. She is full of negativity. Because of her attitude/behavior, many good talented resources have left the company."
Having listened to him for this long & given the understanding of the history of this case, I suggested Sourabh to put her on a "3 - month PIP". In the process, our CEO expressed his curiosity on understanding this in detail….and I clarified, what was all about, I intended.
  • The concerned reporting manager and the HR together will set the guidelines for expected performance and behavior.
  • PIP, Performance Improvement plan is a targeted plan for an individual to improve.
  • During the period, the individual's performance and behavior is evaluated at periodic intervals. In case of 3 - month PIP, the individual is evaluated on monthly basis.
  • This is like putting an individual on red-alert.
  • Post completion of allotted timeframe, appropriate decision will be taken.
  • Some employees use this period to find another job and leave on their own.
We both left the cabin duly agreeing to the idea of initiating the 3 - month PIP process. Mr. Yogesh also gave his clearance and advised Mr. Sourabh to give the required criteria based on which Ms. Natasha's performance & behavior would be evaluated during the period. However, the HR in me was still exploring answers for few things as I don't believe in "One-side heard & fired affair."
Based on the inputs received from Mr. Sourabh, the PIP was prepared and was showed to him on 19 August 2011. However, he was told that before issuing this to her, I would be having an informal chat with Ms. Natasha on 22 August 2011. It was on this day that we met each other for the first time. Her appearance was very professional & on the face of it, she did not appear to be the one like Mr. Sourabh had described. However, the reality came to the fore when I asked her to help me understand her role over the period of association with the company. And, what I could see was, she went on and on and on…..
"The journey was full of challenges - both on personal as well as professional. I was made a victim of such impression. The fact is that neither my family members nor the colleagues extend me the required support. I am given lot many responsibilities when compared to my job title & compensation. I was a part of our first batch of employees who were put through performance enhancement coaching program though my performance was good. In spite of all this I add value to the organization. In fact, I will be glad if you can present my case to the management for a promotion & good increment." After the discussion with her, I was on my way of inquiring about her candidature. As she was put through "Performance Enhancement Coaching Program", I touched base with her coach who confirmed that she was an irresponsible employee & always cribbed. And this was enough to let the PIP roll.
On 1st Sep. Natasha was put on PIP. She was given EIGHT tasks to be completed before 30th November 2011. She refused to accept FIVE of EIGHT tasks, which she felt would require more time and cannot be completed in THREE months. She was also asked to improve her TWO behaviors.
However, for her nature, she could not take this. Instead of a sense of fear & realization, she was much more arrogant in questioning - "What if she doesn't complete the tasks in time?"
I too got irritated with her attitude. However, in my experience I have come across such situations wherein the concerned manager & the management were initially very strong on initiating such processes but, by the end of the PIP program, they turned out to be considerate towards the candidate, hence, all that I did was to be patient & balanced in my response and told her, "In case you don't complete, it all depends on your reporting manager & the management will be constrained to take an appropriate decision on your continued association."
As the days passed, things became normal. Natasha was her normal self. In the month of October 2011, she applied for TWO weeks of leave, which was approved. Then came 30th November, and it was just another day. I asked Sourabh if Natasha had submitted a report on her PIP and got to know that she completed ONLY one task. From his response, I could sense that he was yet to make a decision. However, as I was straight with him in seeking clarity on the way forward, he told that he would revert to me after discussing the matter with Mr. Yogesh.
Two more weeks passed.
We had guests visiting us from our UK office. There were business audits too. We couldn't discuss further on the subject. Finally, on 16th December, we three could meet for a while and it was decided to "Call it a day" with immediate effect by giving her a 3 - month notice pay. And what followed was the routine ritual of immediately ceasing her access rights to all company information & official email ID. Within no time the termination letter was prepared duly sharing the following facts :
  • The opportunity given to her to improve on her ways of working;
  • Her failure in utilizing the opportunity;
  • The tasks that she was to accomplish by the end of the PIP period;
  • Her negligence & failure in accomplishing them which reflected bad on her seriousness towards the role & career with the organization,
  • The view that management took on such casual approach which made them to severe the employment relationship.
  • Enclosed was the draft of the resignation letter which she had to just sign.
At 3 PM, Natasha was called to the conference room and she was conveyed about the management's decision. It was an obvious decision but she took it by surprise in spite of knowing the fact that she was put through performance improvement coaching & plan.
News of her termination spread across the office like fire in the forest. As always, Natasha portrayed herself as a victim, staging that she was not give appropriate opportunity to be heard and chances to improve.
In order to avoid slightest of the panic & concern among the rest of the employee community, we had to convene meeting of all functional heads and team managers to inform them about our decision. They were clearly explained about the various steps taken by the management & opportunities given to her before arriving at this decision of terminating her with a three month notice pay. However, they remained unsatisfied & we could do little beyond this. At the end of the day, while this experience might not have left good memories for any one, it truly speaks about the bitter facts of Work Life.
Do you think this case could have been handled in a different way?
Is it right on the part of Managers to seek justification from management in case of terminations for non-performance and poor behavior?