So you gritted your teeth, forced a smile, and signed a performance improvement plan (PIP). Now what?
Unfortunately, the worst is probably yet to come. So brace yourself.
A PIP is supposed to give you a fair chance to “improve” your performance. In my experience, that’s rarely the case. This can be for a number of reasons:
- You just aren’t a good fit for your position, and you never will be.
- Your boss or someone else in your organization wants you gone.
- There wasn’t anything objectively wrong with your performance in the first place.
- The goals in your PIP are unrealistic. Achieving them may be outside your reasonable control. You may not have the time or the resources to achieve them.
- The goals in your PIP are so vague that no matter what you do, you could be slammed for failing to meet them.
Clarifying a PIP
If you think your PIP is vague, unrealistic, or otherwise unfair, put that in writing. Send that to HR and cc your boss.
Although you may be angry and/or hurt at the unfairness of it all, try to keep emotions and accusations out of what you write.
Go through the PIP point by point:
- When you agree that a goal is reasonable and achievable, say so.
- Where something is vague, ask for clarification or propose a more concrete goal.
- Wherever possible, suggest goals that are objective and quantifiable in terms of dollars or other numbers.
- Where something is unrealistic, explain why.
- If something is beyond your control, note the factors over which you have no control.
- If you need additional resources or help in achieving the goals in the PIP, ask for them.
Trying to Make It Work
Even if you feel that the deck is stacked against you and that you’re probably going to be terminated within a few months, you may still have a chance to dig yourself out of this hole.
But that doesn’t mean you should keep doing things exactly as before, even if you think (or KNOW) your performance was just fine. Your employer can use that absence of “improvement” (i.e., change) as the basis for claiming that you failed to live up to the PIP.
Whereas before you may have only expected feedback at an annual or semiannual performance review, now you should push for more frequent feedback—perhaps weekly or monthly.
After each feedback session, send a short e-mail to your supervisor and HR documenting what happened. If you weren’t able to defend yourself in person, this is a second chance.
For more ideas, check out this article on How to Ace your Personal Improvement Plan.
Laying a Paper Trail
A PIP is an important part of the paper trail your employer is creating to justify firing you, if and (probably) when it comes to that.
But two can play at that game.
As you try to comply with the PIP, document the steps you’re taking. Also document whether you’re getting the feedback, resources, or other help that you’ve been promised.
If you get any positive feedback, no matter how seemingly trivial, save it (if it’s an e-mail) or, if you get it verbally, document it in an e-mail to yourself. This can go into the e-mail you send after every feedback session.
As you achieve the goals and objectives set forth in your PIP, note this in a regular report to your supervisor, cc’d to human resources. If you’re good with infographics, you can even chart your achievements.
Making Your Case
This is also a good time to start gathering evidence of potential patterns of discrimination by your employer.
If you don’t already have a good network within your organization, now is the time to build one—fast.
Try to find out the relative turnover rates for men and women in your position. How many women are in leadership positions, chairing committees, etc.?
Also see if you can find out why people left your company. This might be a good time to connect with former employees via LinkedIn, for example. Take a former colleague out for lunch or coffee and see what you can learn. Gossip isn’t evidence, but you can start to get a feel for whether your experience is common or uncommon.
Are women disproportionately cited for particular kinds of “infractions” and “failings”? Are women held to higher standards or otherwise set up to fail?
If you do uncover what you think is a pattern of discrimination, think carefully about your next steps. Reporting evidence of discrimination could get you fired. No, that’s not fair, it’s not legal, and it could be grounds for you to sue your company. But strategically, it may not be your best choice. Talk to a lawyer to discuss your options.
If You End Up Getting Fired…
Well, presumably you saw it coming. Maybe it’s even a relief that the shoe has finally dropped.
But that doesn’t mean you have to take it lying down. You may be in a position to negotiate a better severance package, and you may want to consider filing a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Educate yourself by reading the materials on this website and articles like Wrongful Termination: When Should You Talk to a Lawyer?
To learn more about PIPs in general, please visit our website.
If you want to know more about your rights as an employee, please click here to download our guide, “Employment Law for Women.”
When you’re ready to talk, we’re here to listen.