Exposed! The Toxic Performance Improvement Plan Scandal

5 Ways to Clean Up a Toxic Performance Management Practise For Good

Extra! Extra! Read All About It…


When I read about this dirty (but not-so-secret) secret, I knew I had to share it.

It blows the lid off a scandalous, sad, true tale of hazardous leadership behaviour and disgraceful management practice.

If you find revelations of this kind too disturbing, stop reading now.

If you prefer to remain in a sanitized bubble; this post is not for you.

If you find it hard to be on the receiving end of criticism (constructive), you mightn’t want to proceed.

But if you are serious about human-centric and respectful leadership, genuine improvement, value creation through people and making opportunities for the remarkable to take root; then read on.

Are you ready?

Hold on tight as this is ride is going to make your stomach drop and your brain rattle.

Before we press on, let us pause to reflect on a little performance improvement plan history. The noble performance management origins of the PIP.

PIPs were intended as a useful and valuable tool for assisting a struggling employee to improve their performance to the standard required by the organisation.

“A performance improvement plan (PIP), also known as a performance action plan, is a great way to give struggling employees the opportunity to succeed while still holding them accountable for past performance. It is not always clear why an employee has poor performance. Did he or she not receive appropriate training? Does the employee not understand the expectations of the job? Are there unforeseen roadblocks in the way?”

'How to Establish a Performance Improvement Plan', Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM)

“Once the reasons for poor performance have been identified, a performance-improvement plan has to be put into place to clarify the improvement needed. The more precise and structured that plan is, the greater the safeguards for employer, manager and member of staff.”

'Management Tools', Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

We all know that a well crafted PIP is a way to track and assess an employee’s capability to perform the role for which they have been hired.  If managed correctly, it can be used as supporting evidence and a criteria for a legally fair dismissal.

Sadly, this tool that was created to help and improve has been misused for lazy people management practise, C.Y.A trickery and other organisational hocus-pocusing.

The reality is that PIPs are the ancient tools of old-style performance management practice.

PIPs are built on a negative situation. It is a plain and simple fact that the way in which PIPs are used often do little to improve skill, behaviour or over all employee performance.

They have earned a solid a terrible reputation as the harbinger of doom, the messenger of failure and the emissary of bad employment endings.

They have spawned a new creative discipline, practiced by savvy employees to game the system and survive the PIP trap. Here’s an example.

In his usual no-holds-barred style, Ted Bauer rips back the corner of HR’s fancy rug. He shines a light on the dust, the detritus and dirty little secrets hidden there.

“The goal of a performance improvement plan isn’t improvement.  It’s managing threats and risk and moving the people you don’t like out the door.”  Read more here.

Be honest, are you really surprised?

Get the full scoop in ‘Performance improvement plan: The dirty little secret’. Go on, I dare you!

Ted is not alone spilling the beans on this dodgy performance management practice, its root causes and toxic effects. Liz Ryan exposes ‘The Truth About Performance Improvement Plans’.

“A manager only puts you on a Performance Improvement Plan when they want to get rid of you. Instead of a Performance Improvement Plan, it should be called ‘This is the First Step Toward Firing You Plan’, because that is what’s happening.” Liz Ryan.

Can you handle the truth? If you can, then read Liz Ryan’s article for Forbes in full here.

Start Cleaning Up Toxic Performance Management Practises Right Now

So does reading all of this so far make you feel appalled, incensed, bristling with outrage?

Et tu, HR? HR must accept its role in betraying the original ‘improvement’ purpose of the PIP.

The situation doesn’t have to remain this way. You can contribute to the clean-up of HR’s reputation and stop employee performance improvement from being a farce. But only if you want to.

What will you do HR? What will you do different and better as a Leader?

Employees want to be supported and led in an honest, non-toxic way to their best work.  And you can give it to them.

You know this desire. You wish this for yourself too.

The longer you let toxic practices linger unchecked in your organisation, the farther the hazard will spread, increasing the cost to clean up and correct. It will seep into your organisation’s culture and cause untold damage within your employee community.

Do you want to clean up this toxic spill?

You can make a start in creating a fresh, clean work environment here.

 5 Ways to Clean Up a Toxic Performance Management Practise For Good

1. Say NO to any behaviour that breaks a law or compromises ethics or the positive values of your organisation. If you know that the manager’s request to put his/her team member on a PIP is bogus, expose it, don’t do it and don’t endorse it. Read more an HR professional’s untapped power of No here.

Speaking out or standing up for what is right takes you way out there on the edge. HR leaders must be first in line to defend the organisation from the infection of behaviours and values which do not serve employees, customers and by extension the business. HR is the guardian of the organisation’s values and positive work culture. Trading your silence and blind compliance for a seat at the senior leadership table shows you to be an untrustworthy chump.

2. Trust is a critical asset HR cannot do without. Without it, you cannot begin to do great work. Trust begins and ends with behaviour. HR professionals must be ethically minded with a bias for action. Do you do what you say – every time? Do you follow through and not flip-flop on your promises? Do you know when to enforce the law and break the rules? Do you do what is right even under difficult circumstances?

If you do, you are on the way to earning respect for yourself and your HR function.

3. Show and Tell the costs of actioning a toxic PIP. Sometimes appealing to good sense and decency is not enough. Calculate and show the monetary costs to the business (e.g. legal fees, unfair dismissal payout) and explain the adverse impact on the internal and external employer brand reputation. Speak the language of business intelligently.

4. Co-Design: Ensure that job roles are clearly defined and are of value to the business. The best chance of success is when operational managers AND HR collaborate in the design and updating of job descriptions / role profiles to ensure role purpose accuracy and relevance of the work being carried out by employees in the roles.

Put a stop the travesty of square pegs stuck in round holes.  You know what I mean.  Those employees languishing in roles that do not suit their skills and talents nor add value to the organisation.  These are the ‘ghosts in the machine’ – the ones that no one knows what they actually do and no one cares enough to find out.

5. Replace PIP with PEP: Shift the thinking from performance improvement to performance enhancement. Create a culture where regular positive conversations take place about building on an employee’s existing skills and strengths, not just ‘fixing’ problem areas in crisis-mode.

This is not a quick win but a focus on continuous development and growth for both the employee and the organisation.  Performance enhancement activities must be aligned with wider long-term organisation talent and legacy/succession planning.

So there you have it. Try these 5 ways to clean up and remove old toxic performance management practises from your organisation.

What other ways to clean up toxic performance management practises can you add?

Let’s start a different and better conversation about employee performance enhancement.

This post was originally posted in full in the blog The HR Rabbit Hole on 16th July 2016. It has been tweaked only a little by the author and now freshly served for the Recruiting Blogs community.

Nicole is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Aquarius Human Resources Consulting. Passionate about HR as Art, she is an advocate of Creative HR, breaking rules and transforming HR. Connect via Twitter @AquariusHRLtd.

Views: 4939


You need to be a member of RecruitingBlogs to add comments!

Join RecruitingBlogs


All the recruiting news you see here, delivered straight to your inbox.

Just enter your e-mail address below


RecruitingBlogs on Twitter

© 2024   All Rights Reserved   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service