“Followed your PIP method. Didn’t work. What next?”

Question: I received a performance improvement plan, and purchased your “Model Letter to Push Back at a PIP.” I followed the formula set down in the template letter with credible arguments. 

However, my employer’s CEO refused to withdraw the performance improvement plan. 

What should I do next?

Washington, D.C.

Answer: Dear Jane, I am sorry you were not successful in your “push back” at your performance improvement plan. Your question – What Do I Do Next?– is entirely appropriate, and not uncommon. Here’s my best response:   

1. Unfortunately, there can never be any guarantee of success in anything we do, and that includes negotiating. Whether it is a doctor trying his or her best to cure an illness, a plumber trying his or her best to fix a leak, or a negotiator trying his or her best to change the behavior of another person or group of people, there is simply no real way we can guarantee success. The only thing that I guarantee people is that the method we use in dealing with a PIP is  the best method there is anywhere. And the only thing people can guarantee themselves is they did their best in applying the method. After that, as the saying goes, “In life, there are no guarantees.” 

2. But, wait: are you overlooking a very important kind of “success” when pushing back on a performance improvement plan, that you might just have achieved? In your note to me, you expressed that your employer “refused to withdraw the performance improvement plan,” and you seemed to equate the CEO’s refusal with complete failure in your efforts. In fact, you might have achieved an important kind of success, but not have noticed it: remaining employed, both for now and possibly for a long, long time. Let me explain:  

You see, it is quite possible that, while your employer has not totally retreated and withdrawn your PIP, your efforts may have been successful in convincing your employer that, if it does terminate you on the basis of the PIP, you will again speak up in your defense, and even possibly claim “retaliation for standing up for honesty.” Your CEO may not have wanted to embarrass his HR Director, or even admit in any way that his or her staff made a mistake. But you may have made a great – and valuable – impression. 

It’s even possible that you will now be treated with extra care, extra respect and extra deference because you have shown yourself to be a person with (a) know-how, (b) courage, and (c) self-reliance, let alone “chutzpah,” as my grandmother would say. Don’t laugh, but you may now be considered a person worthy of being on the “a-team.” Yes, a person with the guts to gain glory.  

Bear these things in mind: showing yourself to be a “stand-up person” might have achieved for you success of a very special and significant kind, far greater than you had imagined.  

3. People who have not achieved what they define as “success” in workplace navigating and negotiating generally have three steps available to them:  

(i) First, you can momentarily accept “lack of success,” at least for now. Not every battle is won. Even championship teams lose some games. Don’t confuse “losing a battle” with “losing the war.” Each day is a new day, and an opportunity to start again. So long as the sun comes up, and you are alive, there is hope, and where there is hope, there is great opportunity for success. As we often say, “Count your blessings – they are far greater than you might imagine.” Or consider that marvelous Irish saying, “Get down on your knees and thank God you are on your feet.”

(ii) Second, you can “go higher.” Your note to me indicated that you have gone as high in your company as its CEO. That suggests to me that you have not yet gone to the Board of  Directors, and that step can also be effective. While I must caution you that, at least in some companies, that could be viewed as “over the line,” I don’t think I ever saw an employee’s report of fraud – which is what so many performance improvement plans are – to a Board of Directors ever result in a retaliation to the employee. It just seems to be something like “Don’t fire her now, or it will look like the Board Members are, themselves, retaliating.” I have seen many “PIP appeals” to the Board of Directors, sometimes to their Audit Committee members, be very effective. Don’t ignore it as an option.

(iii) Third, you might consider hiring legal counsel, although most attorneys don’t know what on earth to do when it comes to performance improvement plans. In workplace negotiating, if (i) accepting the situation, and (ii) going higher, don’t work, we usually consider (iii) bringing in legal counsel. This is tougher with PIP’s than in other issues because attorneys, including employment attorneys, generally say, “There is nothing I can do” when it comes to PIP’s, and that is most unfortunate.

Why that is, I don’t know for sure. I think it may be because so many attorneys are simply not client-oriented, not creative, not caring or not crafty enough to see that a fraud is a legal concept, and it applies to dishonest performance improvement plans. Also, so many attorneys think “Well, I can’t take this to court, and so it is not a lot of money for me, so who cares?” Sad. Pathetic. But true.

Recently, someone obtained a list of attorneys from our blog’s Local Attorneys Service, and none of the attorneys – all experienced employee-side employment attorneys – was willing to help out. I’ve seen that happen so very often. What beguiles me is that, if treated with care, creativity, craftiness and client-focus, people with PIP problems are an abundant source of legal work, at a time so many attorneys are having grave financial difficulties. 

But, if you can find the right kind of attorney, retaining legal services in this regard is an option.

4. “Staying Put for Now” is not the same as “Accepting the Status Quo Forever.” I hope you won’t view “staying put for now” as “accepting the status quo forever,” for they are entirely different perspectives. The first perspective is one that armies refer to as “tactical retreat,” that is, stepping back and regrouping, treating your wounds, and preparing to go forward another day. The second perspective is tantamount to “unconditional surrender.”  

“Staying put for now” is actually grounded in faith – faith in yourself, faith in your abilities, faith in your perseverance, and faith in your future. Faith is a power that cannot be underestimated, and rarely if ever defeated. As the saying goes, “Faith will get you through times of famine and drought, but even the greatest riches and power can’t get you through times of no faith.” Walk with faith, and you’ll go far. 

5. Which of these steps to take now, and perhaps even later, is for you to choose, and should be viewed not as a dilemma, but rather as a challenge. I hope you will view “what to do next” not with trepidation but instead as a test of your judgment and inner strength. Most people try to avoid situations of significant choice; few look for them. But those who do face forward into critical decisions on a regular basis are generally those who grow by them, with them, into them, and from them. This is the real stuff that separates “the rocks from the rocket ships.” Don’t dwell, and  don’t dawdle;  instead demand what is rightfully yours. Perhaps now, and perhaps later, but I assure you, if you stand up for yourself, in the long run you’ll never look back with regret.  

I hope this helps, Jane, and I wish you nothing but the best in going forward. Thank you for writing in, and being someone who is trying – at least trying – for that is what we truly need more of. My hat is off to you!  

My best to you,
Al Sklover

P.S.: New! For those who really, really need their employment-related questions answered, we now offer “Personal & Direct” recorded responses to your Questions, by Al Sklover, sent to you by email, that you can replay as many times as you wish. Interested? Just [click here]. 


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© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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