Taking Someone OFF of a Performance Improvement Plan


Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) are powerful leadership tools. Just not indefinitely so.

Having an employee on a PIP can be a bit of a high-wire act for a manager, and employee, both. So how do you know when it’s time to, not meaning to mix metaphors, fish or cut bait?

Scenario: Mark is a nice enough guy, but his performance had been consistently lackluster. He’s failed to meet important deadlines. When he did meet them, the quality of his work was substandard. And, worst of all, he was seemingly totally unaware that he wasn’t meeting even the minimum requirements of the job, notwithstanding several informal ‘feedback’ sessions you had with him. As a result, you had no choice but to start him on a formal Performance Improvement Plan, or PIP.

The Employee Performance Improvement Process

As you likely know, most PIPs have several discrete steps, as defined by company policy:

  • Step 0: Informal Feedback Sessions – While it can be argued that such interactions are not really part of the ‘formal’ PIP process, in that a PIP cannot begin without them having happen, I’m including them as a prerequisite of the process beginning.
  • Step 1: Oral Warning – The point here is that you want the employee to know, in no uncertain terms, that: (a) his/her performance has become problematic; (b) why it is so problematic; (c) what, specifically, must happen to adequately address the matter; and (d) if the individual does not (or cannot) demonstrate immediate and significant improvement in the area(s) you’ve articulated, further disciplinary actions will likely result. That this is called an ‘oral’ warning is a bit misleading in that it should always include a memo to the employee, his/her file, your boss, and HR regarding the initiation of a formal PIP.
  • Step 2: (First) Written Warning – This step both reminds the employee that s/he has either failed to demonstrate the necessary improvements you articulated in your Oral Warning and informal counseling (or failed to sustain whatever improvements were made) AND that by failing to do so, s/he is putting his/her continued employment at increasing risk.
  • Step 3 (Final) Written Warning – This steps reiterates the performance issues at hand, how the necessary improvements have still not been achieved, or sustained, and that this lapse in ability (or judgment) is now negatively impacting the his/her coworkers and the department or work group. (Sidebar: Framing the individual’s performance problem(s) as affecting more than just his/her own performance is key.) As such, continued inability (or inattention) to making (or sustaining) the required performances improvements will likely lead to further disciplinary actions up to and including termination.
  • Step 4 Termination – This doesn’t mean that the employee is a bad person, or an incapable person; it just means that s/he has not been able to meet the minimum requirements of the job, and, as such, can no longer be allowed to stay in that role. (In most cases this means that a permanent separation from the company is the only viable option for that employee, although prior to this step many employees seek, and are granted, transfers into other areas or positions more in keeping with their skills, abilities, and interests.)

When the Message is Properly Received and Acted Upon

The steps of the formal PIP are what they are and, if done right, by time you’ve taken an employee to Step 4, there are really no surprises as to what’s about to happen. And I say good – the person can now get on with his/her life and find a job more suited to his/her particular skills and abilities. But what if someone actually IS able to improve enough to meet those minimum requirements?

Justifying to your boss, and HR, that it’s time to take the person OFF of their PIP can be challenging so be sure to consider the following when crafting your rationale:

  • Improvement Factors – There are two sides to this coin:
    • validation of the positive/presence of What irrefutable evidence (quants, metrics, statistics, and other hard/soft data trends, etc.) can you provide that validates the newfound presence of the very performance improvements you were seeking to create?
    • validation of the non-negative/absence of What irrefutable evidence (quants, metrics, statistics, and other hard/soft data trends, etc.) can you provide that validates the newfound absence of the very performance problems you were seeking to eliminate?
  • Sustainability Factors – Again, there are two sides to this, as well:
    • validation of the positive/presence of What irrefutable evidence (quants, metrics, statistics, and other hard/soft data trends, etc.) can you provide that validates that the necessary performance improvements you were seeking to create have not only occurred but have been sustained for a meaningful period of time?
    • validation of the non-negative/absence of What irrefutable evidence (quants, metrics, statistics, and other hard/soft data trends, etc.) can you provide that validates that no backsliding has occurred and that there are no impediments to the employee’s continued focus, process, and transparency in preventing future backsliding from occurring?
  • Ongoing Managerial Attentiveness – Yes, it’s the employee’s job to sustain his/her improved level of performance, but you have responsibilities, here, as well:
    • How will you, as the employee’s immediate supervisor, keep tabs on things to insure no backsliding?
    • How will you, as the employee’s immediate supervisor, respond should any backsliding (real or perceived) become evident?
    • How will you, as the employee’s immediate supervisor, hold yourself accountable to insure that you respond to any backsliding (real or perceived) in a respectful, meaningful, and rapid manner?

If you have good answers to these questions, it’s likely time that the employee be taken of his/her PIP, and that you’ll be able to gain the necessary support from your boss, and HR, to do so.

But whatever you do, don’t let a PIP linger, unnecessarily – don’t leave the person in limbo, in abeyance, in Siberia! It’s your job to either take them to the next step or stand down – not to let a PIP drag on for yet another quarter because of you’re inattention. Anything less That’s neither fair to them, nor to their coworkers. So let your employee know that it is his/her responsibility to provide that irrefutable evidence to you – and that if, for whatever reason, s/he cannot (or does not), then it will almost certainly guarantee the the next step of the disciplinary process being taken.

Again, be clear that it is the employees’ job to prove to you that your message was properly received and acted upon. If they fail to do so, it’s on them, not you.

A-minus vs. B-plus Motivations

So let’s say you are provided with the irrefutable evidence you requested, are able to convince your boss and HR to agree with your recommendation, and step someone down off the PIP. Now what?

Since some employees are motivated more by a well-timed pat on the back and others more by being reminded that there’s still more left to do, knowing, in advance, which approach better inspires this employee (and each of your employees, for that matter) is key.

By the way, all that last point to whether an employee is currently on a PIP, has recently rolled off one, or has always been productive, solid, contributor. Why? Because when it comes to leading others, it’s in your best interest to help everyone do as well as they possibly can. And the fewer people up, there, on that tight rope, the better.

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Power and Engagement


Be honest: Which term better defines your leadership style: flashlight or blowtorch?

In other words, do you typically use your leadership authority to create ‘light’ – that is, greater employee clarity and perspective, eagerness and attentiveness – so those around you can better ‘see’ what they need to accomplish?

Or do you turn up the ‘heat’ when others don’t seem to understand what you want, and start blaming, chastising, publicly criticizing, and maybe even bullying others out of frustration – regardless of who gets scorched in the process?

‘Power OVER’

Back in the 1920’s – yes, almost a full century ago! – Mary Parker Follett became one of the true pioneers of organizational theory and behavior when she articulated a workplace dynamic called ‘Power OVER’ to describe how bosses would use their authority to induce their direct reports to concede to their wishes through coercion, dominance, and other abuses of power. It was a very popular way in which to lead, at the time. Regrettably, it still is.

Bosses who take a ‘Power OVER’ approach in their employee interactions typically say things like:

  • “Do it because I say so.”
  • “That’s your problem.”
  • “You’re either with me or against me.”
  • “It’s my way or the highway.”
  • “Just get it done.”
  • “I’m the boss, not you. Never forget that I’m the boss!”

‘Power OVER’ is about using one’s authority to shut others down and force compliance. It’s about taking legitimate employee questions and turning them into win/lose showdowns of power, where the boss not only show s/he has far MORE power than the employee, but that the employee has far LESS power than the boss, too.

When experts say that ’employees don’t leave companies, they leave bosses,’ this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.

Power ‘WITH’

In contrast, ‘Power WITH’ is a more collaborative-based approach to power, authority, and problem-solving – one that uses the logic of one’s thinking to sway opinion, rather than a brute force attack. It’s where bosses allow employees to help direct how the boss’s power is used.

You can recognize ‘Power WITH’ interactions because the boss asks things like:

  • “What do you need from me on on this?”
  • “Where are you stuck and how can I help?”
  • “Do you need to talk about how you’ll do that?”
  • “What other facets of this should we be focusing on?”
  • “Would it be helpful for me to explain why this is an important assignment?”

Paradoxically, this is not an abdication of power by the boss. Rather, it’s the consolidation and expansion of the boss’s authority through its targeted use on behalf of helping direct reports do a better job than they might otherwise.

Leadership Light versus Authoritative Heat

In the context of change management, ‘Power OVER’ is about heat – a boss using bluster and having a total disregard for collateral damage, as s/he calls calls attention to an issue or pressing priority. Thematically, it’s like using a blowtorch to melt employee resistance.

‘Power WITH’, on the other hand, is more about light – like turning on a flashlight to help employees ‘see’ where they need to go and what they need to do. It eliminates resistance by showing there’s really no need TO resist.

‘Power OVER’ builds begrudging employee compliance; ‘Power WITH’ builds focus and greater employee engagement.

Your Turn, Your Choice

If your job responsibilities are simple enough that you don’t need any help finding the answers, ‘Power OVER’ may work just fine for you. Employees will grouse, and leave – or grouse and stay – but who cares because they’re likely not providing with you much value-added, anyway.

On the other hand, if your responsibilities include any real complexity to it at all, you’re going to need to be able to rely on the able assistance of your staff to help you succeed. As such, taking a ‘Power WITH’ approach will likely serve you, and them – and your company, customers and stakeholders – much, much better.

It’s your choice. Until it isn’t, anymore.

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Winning When Losing

“No one was trying to grab any credit or deflect any blame.”

So said Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs after his team lost 4 straight to the New York Mets in the 2015 National League Championship Series.

Good for him,  I say.

{And a moment of silence and appreciation for those Cubbies and what an awesome year they had……….Thank you.}

“They all supported one another,” Epstein continued, “and in the end the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.”

So that’s them, but now look at how you run your organization, whether it’s a small work group, department, division, or an entire company. How do you, as your organization’s leader, handle pressure, and expectations, and failure and disappointment?

  • Do you leverage the learning opportunities or just go with blame?
  • Do you whine and moan or model a better way?
  • Do you hold grudges or redouble your efforts to lead more compellingly?

You see, knowing which side of the fair/foul line you’re on matters. And which side of the fair/foul line you’re on is a choice that YOU get to make.

Which begs the question:

“Which side of the fair/foul line would your staff say you’ve chosen to be on?!”

Success Springs from Failure

Napoleon Hill said that “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

Your job, as a leader, is to find that seed, talk about its importance, and set the stage for learning and growing from it.


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Develop A Personal Learning Strategy

Chief Learning Officer magazine hosted a “Bring Your Own Learning” webinar, today. In it, Todd Tauber, Vice President of Product Marketing of Degreed, started by sharing some interesting statistics regarding BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) technology programs:

  • 95% of the workforce use at least one personal device at work (e.g. smartphone, tablet, laptop)
  • 50% of employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes by 2017
  • BYOD has shown to:
    • increase productivity
    • increase employee morale
    • make employers more attractive to recruits

He used these statistics to tee-up another burgeoning BYO trend: BYOL – Bring Your Own Learning. (I think it should be called GYOL – GET Your Own Learning – but more on that, later.)

What’s at Issue

The showcase statistic from the recently-completed research conducted by Tauber’s firm is this: Up  to 65% of employees are now bypassing Human Resources, Organizational Development, and Learning and Development when getting their learning needs met.

But that’s not all.

When those surveyed were asked, “When you need to learn something to be successful at your job, which of the following are you most likely to do?” only 12% said, “Go to HR and ask for resources.” Only 6% said, “Go to HR and ask for a course.” The vast majority, go elsewhere.


People Want More Leaning Than Their Employers Provide

Furthermore, there’s a huge mismatch between the amount of learning that employees know they need, and the amount of learning their employers provide:


David Grebow, Founder, IBM Institute for Advanced Learning, explained it this way: “We get only about 25 percent or less of what we use in our jobs through formal learning. Yet… most of today’s investments in corporate education are on the formal side. The net result is that we spend the most money on the smallest part of the learning equation.”

And HR, OD, and L&D departments wonder why their credibility is so low?!

People Want Different Leaning Than Their Employers Provide

Also interesting is that when given a choice, non-executives don’t even want their HR, OD, or L&D departments to assist them.

Indeed, when asked which they would rather, almost 9 out of every 10 employees said they’d rather be given credit for their own learning than learn at HR’s direction.

Why? Because their self-directed learning was more 77.7% more effective in helping them be successful in their profession than learning directed by their employer.

GYOL – Get Your Own Learning

The implications of these startling (and not all that surprising) findings are threefold:

  1. Employees want MORE learning than they’re getting from their employer
  2. Employees want DIFFERENT learning than they’re getting from their employer
  3. Employees are taking their learning into their own hands

Face it, if you want to learn, you’re going to have to develop your own Personal Learning Strategy. You’re going to have to GYOL – Get Your Own Learning.

Whether it’s through books, or videos, or certificate programs, or through Google searches, or hiring someone like me to coach you, the cold, hard truth is this: Unless you’re at the highest levels of the organization, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be provided with the type of learning that you truly want or need – especially with respect to your leadership development.

If you’re relying on your company to provide you with the training and development you need,
you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.

So if you want to excel, you really do need to take the initiative. You really do need to develop your own Personal Learning Strategy. And you really do need to GYOL.


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The All Important 9th Frame


When I was a kid, I used to bowl on Saturday mornings. The cool of the air conditioning. The heat of the competition. The arc of the the ball. The crash of the pins. Loved it! And, because it was in the era of manual score keeping, if I got to the lanes early enough, I could score for the league and earn free games for myself!

As a kid who loved to bowl, free bowling was living the high life!

The AINF – The All Important Ninth Frame

Not to get too wonky about it, of the 10 ‘frames’ of a game, I always felt that the 9th frame was the most important. (In college, the beer frames became more important, but I don’t want to digress.)

‘Marking’ in the 9th (getting a spare or a strike) set the stage for a strong finish in the 10th and could do some awesome things to my score. Let me explain:

Say I got 8 pins in the 9th. My score would then increase by 8. But, if I got a strike in the 9th, and then followed it up with two more strikes in the 10th, my score in the 9th would increase by 30, plus I’d get a bonus roll to finish out the 10th, as well! So finishing the game with 4 strikes would increase my score by 60 points!

Too wonky?! Sorry.

Suffice it to say that the ability to add 60 points to one’s score was huge. That’s why I always referred to the 9th frame as the AINF – the All Important Ninth Frame. I’d even change the frame number on the score sheet so I wouldn’t forget:


Your Leadership AINF

So why am I telling you this? Why is the AINF relevant to a leadership development blog? (Why thank you for asking!)

It’s relevant because you’re in your work-year AINF right now! This is the time of year where you ‘set up’ so many things to follow:

    • It’s the time of year when you start (or certainly should start if you haven’t already) working on your year-end deliverables, in earnest
    • It’s the time of you when you start  (or certainly should start if you haven’t already) working on formulating your plans for next year
    • It’s the time of year when you start (or certainly should start if you haven’t already) working on your next year’s budget
    • It’s the time of year when you start (or certainly should start if you haven’t already) working on your year-end employee reviews
    • It’s the time of year when you start (or certainly should start if you haven’t already) increasing your internal and external networking (Why? Because you’ve let this lapse, again, haven’t you?!)
    • It’s the time of year when you start (or certainly should start if you haven’t already) working on your own year-end review (in preparation for your conversation with your boss)
    • It’s the time of year (or certainly should start if you haven’t already) working on how you want to grow your impact and influence beyond what they already are (Why? See the networking comment, above.)

Take a moment and consider what other TASK MANAGEMENT, PEOPLE MANAGEMENT, AND SELF-MANAGEMENT activities are (or should be) in your AINF. I’m sure you’ve got some.

Getting a Leg Up on Things

As a leader, you are, in very real terms, a professional problem-solver. And if you’re doing your job right, most of the problems you face are complex ones that no one else in your organization can solve. This is a variation of that. Unlike so many of the problems you typically face, though, these issues come with advance notice. By treating this time of year as something more than just any other time of year – by treating it as your AINF – you set the stage for a strong finish to your year.

But as we used to say on the lane, “You’ve got to STRIKE quickly. There’s not a moment to SPARE!”


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Reward Systems: Does Yours Measure Up?

Book Review »
Title: Reward Systems: Does Yours Measure Up?
Author: Steve Kerr
Publisher: Harvard Business Press

I’ve long been a fan of Steve Kerr, the former chief learning officer at General Electric and Goldman Sachs. His 1995 article, On the Folly of Rewarding A, while Hoping for B, (Academy of Management Executive, 1995 Vol.  9 No. 1), is a classic and one of my favorite readings from back during my MBA days. (It ranks right up there with Arthur Elliott Carlisle article, MacGregor (Organizational Dynamics v. 24, Autumn 1995) — which is another MUST read.)

The main premise of Folly was that reward systems are all too often all to fouled up. So I was particularly eager to see what Kerr had to say so many years later in his latest book …

Part of what made Folly so fascinating to me, was how clearly Kerr magnified the absurdity of so many existing rewards systems. Take these common management rewards, as example:.

The Folly of Hoping for A while Rewarding B

Yes, good stuff calling things as they are, like that.

Reward Systems takes this same premise — that many (most?) reward systems are fouled up — and builds upon it. Using a plentiful array of stories, examples, antidotes, and case studies, Kerr focuses, this time, on the HOW TO fix it part.

As for that HOW TO part, here’s his message:

If you want to realign your reward systems, you need to do three things:

  1. Define performance in actionable terms.
  2. Measure the right things and use the right measures.
  3. Reward the right things and use the right rewards.

“By following Kerr’s advice,” says the book’s jacket sleeve, “you can dramatically improve your organization’s performance – without adding headcount, upgrading IT capabilities, hiring consultants, or changing the basic nature of your employees.”

And while this seem like typical marketing hype, Kerr, unlike most, not only knows HOW to recognize misaligned reward systems, he knows precisely how to FIX them, too.

Original Source: http://ggci.com/blog3/2011/03/book-review-reward-systems/

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