Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion. It’s not my employers, neither past not future. I am not a legal advisor. My personal experience and suggestions here may or may not work for you.
PIP, or Performance Improvement Plan, is when your employer thinks you need some serious improvement in your performance. The keyword here is “serious.”
PIP sucks. Agreed.
Sorry to hear that. But it happens to a lot of people, so you are not alone!
The good news is, you are not fired [yet] and you have been given a second chance.
When you are on PIP, you are basically on the edge of being fired. Unless you don’t give a damn about losing your job, you should be stressed out, naturally. You must take it very seriously and change the things you have been doing so far.
First, plan for the worst
The least of the worst is being fired here and dealing with its natural consequences.
- Save everything you need to save.
That includes any document you are legally allowed to access and retain, even after leaving the company, for personal record and future reference (e.g., paystubs); contact points with friends at work; and even precious personal belongings at your desk!
- Have a financial plan.
Cancel your hefty expenses and memberships/subscriptions you might not need, have a plan for liquidating any risky and crucial investments (e.g., public stocks), and even plan for having the move out to a cheaper unit be as smooth as possible, just in case.
- Think about any other due diligence for living unemployed.
It can be your immigration situation (Again, I am not a lawyer, nor can speak to that, but please take it seriously!), health care matters (overdue free vision and dental check), spending your FSA (yes, some of them expire the day you are out the door.)
- Polish your resume and LinkedIn profile.
Ask for friendly recommendations before it’s late, publish blog posts about your accomplishments (company blog, or approved by company’s legal team in your personal space), and add bullet points for achievements that you might forget. (e.g., Hackathons, Spot bonuses.)
- Share the situation with trusted friends and family members.
They might have $10K cash or an extra bedroom now that can lend you but might not have it available in a month.
Note that you should NOT overreact and lead the world around you into the “worst.” Just be conservative and plan as much as you can.
Second, hope (and try) for the best
Now that you have your back covered let’s focus on the present, and then the future!
Note that you are not fired yet. So unless you are dead sure that your employer just wants to save their own ass/outside-look by putting the PIP plan in place and they cordially hate your guts, you are given a second chance. You should grab that with both hands.
Key points here are:
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONAL, even if it is!
You don’t have the power. You don’t define the rules. You don’t set what is fair and what is not. It’s someone else who does.
Be clear to yourself and swallow your emotions. If you need to take a break (even half a day or one day) after hearing the news, please ask for it and do so. It can be helpful to show you are being (hopefully, genuinely) surprised.
Go for a long walk and vent to a very trusted friend (preferably not from work, that can potentially backfire.)
Be a grown-up person who is going to deal with the matter as professional as possible. Or you will simply fuck it up even more terribly.
Again, it might sound completely unfair. You hate their soul. You feel you are betrayed, punished wrongfully, and people are disliking you for random reasons. At the end of the day, you cannot change any of it.
If you want, you can resign immediately. That’s almost the only thing you have in your control. (Unless you have enough evidence to file a lawsuit.) Otherwise, please move on and understand that you cannot change past, so focus on changing the future.
First, make sure you clearly know what the hell is going on. It’s going to be awful that you try to improve an aspect of your performance that wasn’t broken in the first place and just lose this time/opportunity.
If you need to talk to both your manager and the HR to be dead clear on everything, please do so. Don’t defend yourself aggressively, just listen and understand their vision and their perception of the problem.
Clearly understand What the plan is
The proposed PIP that is handed to you is a “plan.” It should have a list of expectations, possibly with a timeline.
You don’t need to defend yourself right away. If you constantly hear this voice in your head that says “but I have already been doing it perfectly all the times!”, then good for you — now your task is more straightforward, just do what it takes to make it visible and approved!
Make sure you go over every single item and ask as many questions as it takes for you to make sure no one (including yourself) is going to be misunderstood on these expectations.
Also, go over the timeline very thoroughly. If it doesn’t have one, ask for it. An indefinite PIP has the potential to be abused as a carrot-and-stick.
Ask for “How” if you are not seeing the path.
Your manager might try to sneak some unrealistic expectation there (especially if she truly believes her life is going to be more pleasant without you), so don’t be a shy obedient lamb! Open your eyes and peacefully defend your future self.
Bargain, If needed
You can even ask for fewer expectations, very nicely and professionally, and counter-offer on a few items. It’s best to do it when other people are present there.
Make sure you imply that you are on the same boat with them and your goal, just like theirs, is to establish the best Plan for Improving your Performance.
If you are asked to fix 10 bugs a week, negotiate for 8 bugs in the first month and 9 in each following month.
Finally, Define Success
If you think the best outcome is you will suddently become an office hero and they will come to apologize you in front of everyone for mistakenly accusing you because of a flaw in their mental judgment system, you should change the Netflix genre you are watching!
They have already made their decision and closed the case about your “past performance.” Nothing can change that.
What you can do, and you should do, is first to accept it — not necessary the fact that the problems are as big as they say, but at least the fact that they have identified those problems and the problems look serious to them. Then, find your way out of that situation and try to become a “normal” or “slightly-above-normal” performer so that they will move the spotlight away from you.
That’s almost the best outcome in the short term that you should be chasing after. Later, in the long run, you will have enough time to prove them you are a valuable asset; but fighting both battles at the same time (jumping directly from the worst to the best, instead of the worst to normal and normal to best, separately) is just an accelerated path to a more significant failure.
Third, Put it in Action.
The talks and meetings are over now. You must be a little bit relieved. If you are not, then take a cold shower and understand that the damage is enclosed and the fire is put out.
Now it’s time to grab a vacuum cleaner, a pair of gloves, positive attitude, and start cleaning up the mess.
Key points here:
Change yourself, as much as you are comfortable with
What you have been doing wasn’t working. Show that you are a new person, but not too new!
Dressing nicer than your wrinkled t-shirt and loose flip-flaps, getting a hair-cut, and stopping eating garlic in the morning can help.
Change your lifestyle, as much as you are comfortable with
Do you have a habit of turning on your PS4 at midnight and playing until two in the morning? Please stop that for a while.
There are millions of articles about improving your sleeping hours. Be ready at work 30 minutes before you *need* to. If you need to spend $2 a day more and take an Uber instead of bus, do so. It’s a serious situation that you want to change.
Note that your physical presence and your behavior are the first things people will always notice. They are more publicly noticeable than your actual performance. So if HR sees you are early (not too early!) they will get the fact that it’s a different you, now.
Also, don’t take long breaks for lunch or walk or coffee or unnecessary chats with random coworkers, or texting, or playing games or FB’ing in your phone. Any of these circumstances, being observed by the “guys” who comment on your performance, can play a rule in your faith.
Remember, they might unconsciously give less leeway to your slack times than other employees. This is what it is — Don’t fight, just accept and be careful.
Be Organized and Planned.
Remember you are going to be early to work, right? Grab a coffee, and spend 10 minutes focusing on your plan and what you need to accomplish.
It might not be a bad idea to book your calendar with your plan for the day in chunks of 1 to 2 hours. It can keep help you track yourself.
Checkpoints, Checkpoints, and Checkpoints
Set up routine touch bases with your manager and people who have decided on you.
Daily with direct manager is a good practice. Even better if you can run both the plan at the beginning of the day (stand up) and the result at the end of the day (pow wow). You can have twice-a-week with HR and weekly with the indirect manager, depending on the size and structure of the team. Make sure you get their buy-in.
Even if your manager and other people are busy, you can send them a daily report (CC’ed) or update an internal document with one page per day. Don’t micromanage yourself per se, just write at least one item per hour of work on average.
Lubricate the transformation!
You can, and probably you should, ask for official meetings (weekly) to run your progress by the committee.
Note that in the meeting where your PIP was decided in the first place, probably some people wanted to fire you and some others wanted to give you a chance. Don’t overthink who is who, just keep in mind that you really need the people who wanted you out to change their mind.
It’s much easier to have those people transform their vision about you gradually, ten degrees a week, than enforcing a 180 degrees change in one final session at the end of the three months.
Also, when you found the right time, it might not be a bad idea to try to get that ledger (possibly from a friendly HR person!) Knowing if a senior person in your team is there can help you invest in your relationship with them too.
Communicate, as much as you can
Make sure you get their written approval at the checkpoints that you have accomplished what you were expected to.
For God’s sake, keep your attitude positive — you don’t need to 100% agree with them, but dumping your deliverables with a grumpy attitude of “Here! Take it and let me go home!” doesn’t help. You are dealing with another human being, and your behavior is a significant part of your performance.
Also, if you are stuck on a problem or a conversation with another team, ask your manager. Don’t be a crying baby that needs hand holding all the times — just keep them posted.
By doing so, you are making sure that at most you will be losing one day of work in the wrong direction, and you have allowed your manager to correct you from the very first moment of making a decision on your own.
A very good message can be:
The back-end team just got back to me and said they do not have enough bandwidth to deliver item X for the project I am working on this month.
So, after talking to <Technical Lead/Mentor>, I have decided to take the alternative route of Y, with its details (including pros and cons) being available at <Link Here>.
Let me know if you have concerns or want to chat further. Otherwise, we will touch base, as usual, at the end of the day.”
Keep it to yourself. Professionally. For your own sake.
It really doesn’t help you carrying an additional label of “toxic employee.”
Stay away from it. Wanna vent? Call a friend outside of the office after work. Don’t let that air flow inside the office.
It also doesn’t help your internal reputation and personal brand either. People might stop hanging out with you, or subconsciously see you on your way out, or think less of you when it comes to hearing your technical comments or doing something for you.
Remember, you are being watched, Mr. Reese!
Don’t stress out, but be mindful about what you do, every single step.
It’s simply like being in a nude beach that you have been before, just with some perverts watching you all the time!
Final Word: Don’t Over-correct Yourself
While you think you must do everything you can to get the hell out of this situation, remember two things:
- You are demonstrating the capabilities that you haven’t shown before.
- You are setting up a new bar for future expectations from you.
Think about what staying 12 hours at work can do to either one of these two.
You don’t want the committee to collectively reach to the conclusion that you have been “lazy” before and there were at a loss paying the lazy you for many months and years!
You want to be just a slightly-new you, or in fact “improved you”, who:
- Is more organized and responsible
- Communicates better, to everyone
- Is more positive, more motivated, and more self-driven
That’s it! Good luck and chin up — Anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.