Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) – Can My New Boss Do That?

Question: Three months ago I was assigned to a new manager. He doesn’t like me and last week I was put on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). Apparently it was the lack of communication that is in question. The first meeting that included HR was the first I knew of this, and in this meeting I was informed technically I am outstanding (I am an automotive engineer.) I am close to 58 and have never in my life received a poor performance review. My question is, is he in violation of putting me on a “PIP” as his time as my manager is so short?

Gerard, Michigan

Answer: There really is no “rule” that says a new manager can’t place an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan. That being said, you may have a good point. You should raise your concern – how could he know your communication abilities in so short a time? More importantly, how is it that you haven’t had this complaint before in probably 35 years of working? But I’m concerned . . .

Whenever a client or blog reader tells me he or she has been placed on a so-called “Performance Improvement Plan,” or “PIP,” I worry for them. In over 25 years of counseling and representing employees, I can count on one hand the number who have remained employed at the conclusion of a “PIP” . . . unless they’ve stood up for themselves by challenging the PIP.

The concept of helping someone put together a plan to improve their workplace performance is wonderful. However, in 95% of the times I’ve seen PIP’s used, what’s really going on is close to evil: it is nothing but a “paper trail” that looks objective in order to justify firing an employee who everyone knows is a good employee.

Almost always PIP’s involve giving employees objectives that are so vague and subjective no one can really tell if the objectives have been met. (“Poor communication” sounds like one of those.) Often PIP’s involve requiring the employee to accomplish something they have no control over, or don’t have the resources to accomplish. Frequently deadlines are set that are 200% unrealistic.

In writing – preferably in an email – and to the company president, CEO or Board of Directors, challenge the facts upon which the PIP is premised. Challenge the conclusion that you are a poor communicator. Challenge the motive for targeting you; perhaps it is your age, or simply a personality conflict. And challenge the process used: how could such a new manager be so sure you don’t communicate well? Perhaps he doesn’t listen well; how come others have never “accused” you of this?

If you would like to obtain a “model” memo to help you respond to a
Performance Improvement Plan or Performance Review [click here].

I hope that with respect, and with reason and resolve, you will stand up for yourself – and your family – at this time and in this way.

Best, Al Sklover