Article (January-2019)


Why PIP is a dreaded HR jargon?

Vinay Ravindran

Designation : -   Senior Manager -Human Resources

Organization : -  SG Analytics, Hyderabad


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Performance Improvement Plan also referred as PIP is an alternative name for performance action plan. PIP is an HR leverage tool that outlines specific steps for the employee to achieve in a given time frame with mutually agreed quality. It is a way through which employers track and monitor the performance of individuals who are the potential cause for concern and also encourage employees to be the best they possibly can in the workplace.

It is a positive action taken, as it is a way of making sure each individual is performing at their very best and if they are not, then strategies can be put in place to support them in their personal and professional development.

However, there are times when PIP could be seen as negative. When an employee underperforms, putting a PIP in place is one course of action that may be taken. It may be a result of them not meeting their targets or in response to problems with their behavior in the workplace. Clearly no employee wants to find themselves with a PIP as it means that they are currently not up to the expectation and that their future performance will be closely watched. Most workers dread hearing this HR jargon. Most of the times, it is used and associate with personal and professional failure. This is particularly difficult for those employees who had previously performed at an above average level but in recent times, their performance has deteriorated. In case if you are putting them under PIP they might question you.

Line manager's role

Usually, it is the role of HR to facilitate and the line manager to implement the PIP. They will be responsible for having a conversation with the named member of staff, discussing areas of failure, suggesting areas for improvement, setting goals and supporting the member of staff in making any necessary changes. A further role of the line manager is likely to be monitoring their member of staff's performance and reviewing the situation on a regular basis.

What manager's should avoid

A manager needs to remain professional throughout the period the PIP is in place. Although they need to be considerate of the feelings of the employee, who will potentially be upset and defensive, it is important that they do not let their own emotions intervene in the management process. A manager also needs to avoid being evasive in their responses to the employees questions with regards to the PIP. They need to be able to give direct answers and explain them. Finally, a line manager should not use a PIP as a tool for threat. This is not constructive and will demotivate the member of staff. This may lead to the PIP having a reverse effect of what it was originally intended to achieve.

PIP conversations

If you are a line manager or a representative of the HR team, and you are required to discuss the implementation of the PIP with an employee, then there are several things that you need to do to make the conversation go well. First of all, you should prepare before the conversation. Have any information about the reasons for the PIP and, if necessary, any supporting evidence. Plan ahead for any problems that might occur during the conversation and think about how you will cope with them. It is important that you stick to the facts. Let the employee know the reasons why a PIP is being put in place and then answer their questions fairly. Discuss the point, strategies and goals included within the plan and make sure that they are fully aware of what is expected of them and the consequences of failing to make the necessary improvements.

Documenting employee performance

It is essential that regular and accurate documentation is made of an employee's progress towards their performance targets. You will need to set dates to review the situation and notes of progress should be made at each meeting. The exact structure of the documentation may vary in the format in different industries, but it should be consistent within that company.

HR's role in PIP

One of the main roles of HR in the PIP process is to provide relevant information to line managers and advising employees of their rights in this situation. Facilitating the improvement of an employee's performance by supplying the appropriate resources may also be a part of the HR role. A further role of human resources is to arrange appropriate training to support the employee in fulfilling their job role and reaching their full potential in their career. Also, there may be times when a member of staff questions the validity of the PIP and the reasons why they have been put on one in the first place.

For example, a long-term member of staff who has worked in their role for over five years and has consistently performed well. They get a new line manager, and they are suddenly put on a PIP. The staff member may question the motives, reasons and purpose for the PIP being put in place and feel that they are being treated unfairly. The role of human resources in this situation is to look into the individual case in detail and provide the stakeholder with an analysis.

HR need to have a clear-cut answer in each individual PIP case whether it is a low-performance issue because of poor skill set/lack of will to do/Attitude issue. Also, it will be useful if PIP discussions are recorded for future reference, and also it can be used by training team to prepare company-specific case studies to educate and equip line managers to have effective performance improvement discussions.

HR can also include some of the metrics to analyze the PIP at corporate level

  • % of employees put in PIP Vs Total Headcount
  • %of employees removed through PIP Vs Total Headcount
  • % of employees who got 4/5 rating after being put in PIP
  • % of PIP cases in each function
  • % of Maximum PIP cases under XYZ line manager/function

Using PIP as HR tool

The purpose of the performance improvement plan is to act as a tool for facilitating improvements by the employee. It is a fundamental part in constructive discussions between employers/line managers and employees about what is expected and what can be done to achieve this. The overall aim of using this tool is to improve the performance of individuals to benefit the company as a whole while also supporting the staff in making personal and professional improvements.

Administering a PIP

If you are responsible for administering the PIP, it is first important to have a relevant and accurate reason for doing so. They should only be put in place for employees who are consistently under-performing. Other steps should be taken first to support the individual in improving their weaknesses before official documentation is put in place. It is not enough just to say what behavior or specific tasks need to be improved upon, strategies to do this must also be provided. It is also important to specify performance indicators and state how their performance will be measured.

Overall, if a PIP is used appropriately, then it can be an effective tool in supporting an employee in improving their performance and reaching their full potential. It is vital that it is approached professionally, used only in the right circumstances and that all procedures are followed properly. Realistic goals and regular reviews also play an important part in using a PIP. It is when a PIP is used inappropriately and not administered properly that performance improvement plan becomes dreaded HR jargon.