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tribe migration

Stop Doing PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans) and Do This Instead!

PIPs are the equivalent of dysfunctional annual performance reviews.  They are another antiquated tool for mishandling humans on our teams.  Before you get too defensive, please stay with me.  This is not hyperbole to get your attention.  I will provide you with a logical case for rethinking this tool’s efficacy.  Whether you agree with me or not, you will enjoy the discussion.  Let this information soak a while.  We just might identify a blind spot.

I have spent four years researching our tribal tendencies to finish my latest book.  There are deeply ingrained needs that surface when we interact in groups.  We have predictable actions and reactions.  Scientists call it stimulus and response.  We have spent too many generations living together in tribes to not have some commonality as people.

Fear is a powerful paralytic. Nothing stops movement, effort, and action more than being afraid.  We become hesitant, less confident, and worried.  We begin to second guess are actions and decisions.  Two essential needs in all groups are psychological safety and a belief we have a future with the group.  Without these two needs, our old brain becomes afraid.  We question our ability to fit in and survive.  We start to look for a safe place or acceptance by another group.  In his book Culture Code, Daniel Coyle states high performing cultures are rich in both psychological safety and a feeling of belonging.  Poor performing cultures lack both.

Let’s apply this to PIPs.  Nothing about a PIP makes people feel safe or certain about their future with the group.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Consider this analogy.  A baseball player’s batting average has dropped to an all-time low.  Instead of coaching the player through the problem, we put him on a ninety- day PIP to improve.  Our hope is the player will begin activity or make changes (as described in the PIP) to improve over the next threemonths.  You can apply this analogy to a salesperson closing deals or a production manager hitting targets.

How safe does the baseball player feel?  What happens psychologically every time he steps up to bat?  Is he worried about striking out? What does he think about his future with the team?  Every part of his old brain is lighting up.  You must survive!  You are at risk!

It is no different in the workplace.  A team member is placed on a PIP.  What happens when she encounters a tough decision?  What happens if she makes the wrong decision?  She becomes paralyzed by the lack of psychological safety.  She questions her belonging on the team.   Let’s apply PIPs to personal relationships.  Your wife puts you on a PIP and says, “You must improve in these areas over the next ninety days, or I am filing for a divorce.”  Most people would think the marriage is over!

PIPs have become management’s last defense before termination.  According to Forbes contributor, Liz Ryan, PIPs send the message, “I control your future, do not cross me.”  She compares PIPs to writing someone up and then putting them on probation. She refers to PIPs as part of the “crusty old management system of the past.”

John Hollon, with Talent Management and HR, states PIPs are not about improvement.  He states they are more about gathering evidence to support a termination.  He says the dirty little secret about PIPs is they do not work.

What message does a past high performer receive when put on a PIP?

Keep Reading... What do attorneys think about PIPs?

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