Why very few people survive the PIP

The very term, ‘performance improvement plan’ or PIP, carries a negative connotation, which is why employees think it’s a tool to show them the door


Armed with an MBA in sales and marketing, Ankita started her career with a new-age startup, called Love Stories. She joined this dating platform as a management trainee and slowly climbed up the ranks to become a senior manager-marketing. She reported to Suhas, the global director of marketing at Love Stories and together they handled a 35-member marketing team. The Company did quite well and Ankita remained the brain behind some of its most popular branding and marketing campaigns for about five years.

Suddenly, there was a change in the leadership team. The board decided to bring in a new CMO and naturally, Suhas was sidelined. To save his dignity, he put in his papers. The new CMO, Marry Roseman, a British national who had moved to India, came with a successful track record of building great brands in the startup ecosystem. She brought in a new director of marketing, Neha, who was as old as Ankita and came with approximately the same experience. The two got off on a wrong footing and soon there was a cold war between them.

Ankita’s ideas were not heeded nor did any appreciation come her way. As her manager failed to create the right environment for her to succeed, her performance dipped and she was put on a performance-improvement plan or PIP. Ankita knew this was the exit door being shown to her.

“HR managers and other line managers in India do not take the PIP process very seriously. That is why, I have seen a very insignificant number actually surviving the PIP process”

Dharm Rakshit, head-HR, Hero MotoCorp

At first, she tried to take this sportingly and in her stride, but after a month of effort, she realised what this all was about. The unrealistic tasks, goals and assessments, told a different story altogether. Neither was there any support from the HR manager nor was much interest shown by the line manager. Ultimately, Ankita resigned!

This is a very common example of how a PIP programme is driven in most companies. It is no wonder that people put under such a programme are forced to believe that a PIP is almost as good as being bid ‘goodye’.

“HR managers and other line managers in India do not take the PIP process very seriously. That is why, I have seen a very insignificant number actually surviving the PIP process,” admits Dharm Rakshit, head-HR, Hero MotoCorp.

Rakshit further points out, “There is no continuous feedback in many organisations, and therefore, when employees are told about being put under a PIP plan, they are taken by surprise and are shocked,” shares Rakshit.

Even Manoj Kumar Sharma, joint president & CHRO, Aarti Industries, believes that a PIP holds a very negative connotation for the employees. “Employees often consider it as a punishment on the part of the company for their poor performance,” states Sharma.

Should employees take PIP as negatively as it is portrayed?

Well, it depends on the circumstances. One always has the option to stay positive and improve oneself. In fact, Sharma does not believe that employees should be so horrified if put under a PIP.

“Companies do not use PIP as a tool to fire employees. I have not seen it happening in my career,’ asserts Sharma.

“Employees often consider PIP as a punishment on the part of the company for their poor performance”

Manoj Kumar Sharma, joint president & CHRO, Aarti Industries

How can we make PIP less scary for employees?

Prepare them: As per Rakshit, a continuous feedback mechanism is essential so that discussions can be had with the employees about their performance. This will make it easier for them to digest the news and “ensure that the PIP does not come as totally unexpected,” says Rakshit.

Evaluate fairly: Also, the managers and HR managers in charge of these PIPs, should ensure a better evaluation. They should not just look at ‘what’ the employees have achieved, but also at ‘how’ they have achieved it. “This increases the self-awareness of the employees and helps them improve more effectively,’ enunciates Rakshit.

Call it ‘development plan: Ravi V., former VP-learning and development, Reliance Industries, questions the need to position the improvement process as ‘PIP’. “Why can’t we just call it an IDP or individual development plan?” he asks.

Sharma agrees with Ravi’s suggestions of calling the PIP process a ‘development’ plan rather than an ‘improvement’ plan.

“We have to take the employees into confidence and make it clear that this is not the company’s ruse to fire people, but an endeavour to give them another chance, so that they can be retained,” asserts Sharma.

“Rather than calling it a ‘PIP’ we can position this process as a development plan”

Ravi V., former VP-learning and development, Reliance Industries

Handle the issue with empathy: Ravi shares that many companies do not even have a formal PIP in place. When employees start underperforming, they are simply given some time to improve with lots of counselling and mentoring. If they improve, they stay, otherwise they are asked to leave.

“PIPs are a sensitive matter. Such conversations require empathy to be successful,” concludes Rakshit.

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