“Wise choices will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe.”
– Proverbs 2:11
ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES”: Katherine, 53, a Logistics Analyst for an international freight-forwarding company based in Seattle, had received “Strong Performer” performance reviews for each of her last eight years. And just three years earlier, she had been selected as an “Outstanding Contributor” at the company’s national conference.
In light of a downturn in business due to a series of West Coast union slowdowns, Katherine thought her employer might initiate some layoffs. And, too, she expected her annual bonus might not be increased this year, as it had for six years in a row. But she sure didn’t see what was coming her way.
In early November, she was asked to attend a meeting with both her manager and an HR representative. “Most probably,” she thought, “I will be told of a potential promotion.” After all, she was surely seen by everyone as an “up-and-comer.” To Katherine’s surprise, she was handed a Performance Improvement Plan, or “PIP,” that said (a) her work was woefully inadequate, (b) she had to improve in 24 different ways, and (c) she had just 30 days to “make her Manager confident.” Nothing less than a curve ball from left field!
This is what Katherine was told: “You have a choice: resign now, which will look better in your HR file, and will look better to future employers, and we might even give you four weeks of severance pay. Your other choice is to take a chance and try to satisfy the PIP. But if you choose to take your chances with the PIP, and do not succeed, you will be terminated for poor performance, and denied any severance, in which case you will never be permitted to return to work for this company.”
Katherine saw the two alternatives given to her to be like “Either jump off a bridge voluntarily, or we will throw you off ourselves,” a kind of “devil’s choice,” in which both alternatives would inevitably be quite detrimental to her.
Fortunately, Katherine did not choose either of the two alternatives presented to her. She felt, instinctively, that she was being urged to do what her employer wanted her to do, and would be in its interests, but not in hers. Fortunately, she googled “performance improvement plan,” and came upon our blogsite and learned that there is, indeed, a third alternative when given a PIP: to respectfully and effectively “push back” at her Performance Improvement Plan.
Human Resources representatives and managers will not tell you that “pushing back” to your Performance Improvement Plan is an alternative available to you. Rather, they will try to convince you that you have only two alternatives, both of which are almost always bad for you. They try to limit your “vision,” restrict the agenda in your mind, and prevent you from doing what is often the best thing to do – for YOU.
What do we mean by “push back?” Simply put, to (a) respectfully questioning its facts, (b) reviewing the bona fides of its conclusions, (c) pointing out inadequate process or procedure, (d) suggesting improper motivations, and (e) requesting alternatives to the PIP and its probable consequences.
LESSON TO LEARN: In difficult times, layoffs and downsizing are often disguised as performance issues. Thus PIP’s are used to “thin the ranks without thinning the corporate wallet,” by denying customary severance. If you are given a Performance Improvement Plan, don’t be fooled, tricked or intimidated by being told that you have only two alternatives available to you: that is, (1) resign or (2) “give it a try.”
Imagine, for the moment, you went to a car dealer to purchase a particular model in blue. Imagine, also, that the car dealer had no blue cars in stock. Well, that car salesman would likely try to convince you that (a) they don’t make the model you want in blue, (b) the blue that your model is made in is not an attractive blue, (c) they made your car in blue, but the blue paint turned out to rust easily, or (d) they made so few cars that year in blue, that even if you can find one, it will cost you an extra $20,000. The lesson to remember is this: others will often try to convince you that your choices are limited to options that are good for them, and not good for you.
You surely do have other options, despite what you are told, and respectfully and effectively “pushing back” to the Performance Improvement Plan is surely the best one there is.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you are ever presented with a Performance Improvement Plan, if you think about it, the choices offered to you – and described as the only choices available to you – are not as good as the “third choice” not mentioned. Consider these eight thoughts:
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