In a short period of time, my director wants me to place my direct on a plan to improve his performance.  This is typically a punitive measure taken to 'manage someone out' of the organization and I fear that this extremely intelligent, high C direct of mine will be lost as a result of this action.  As the direct's high S manager, I feel caught in the middle of this mess that I neither wanted nor asked for.  However, to my director's point something needs doing in order to improve my direct report's sense of ownership and delivery which indeed has been found wanting.  I've been managing him for roughly eight to nine months now and apparently haven't been doing a very good job of it now that it has come to this.  What thoughts do you have concering how I should deliver this message to the direct and/or help persuade my boss that this action need not be taken?  (As a side note, O3's have been limited to once every month as a directive given me by this same boss.)

mrreliable's picture

Today is perhaps my "be blunt day," but I'm going to be real honest. I disagree with your approach to management in this situation.

In my opinion, a performance improvement plan is a last-ditch effort to communicate as clearly as possible an employee's deficiencies to give that person a chance to salvage their employment situation. It's last chance for an employee on the brink, not a "punitive measure" taken to "manage someone out" of the organization. The fact that many people who go on performance improvement plans do not retain long-term employment with the company is not because the PIP pushed them out. It's because their performance needed to improve, and it did not.The problem is not the PIP, it's the employee's performance. Many companies do not use PIP's, and in most of those companies this person would already be gone.

You feel caught in the middle of this mess? You neither wanted it nor asked for it? If I was your director, I'd tell you balderdash, that's why I hired you. Yes, you did want it and ask for it the minute you accepted the management position.

You acknowledge "something needs doing." Apparently something has needed doing for a while. Your director would rather not have to deal with this. Rather than feeling put upon to do this, you should appreciate that your director is delegating this unpleasant task to you instead of stepping in and doing it himself. That would undermine your creditiblity from here forward. You can bet your director senses your reluctance to deal with the situation the way he want's you to.

I don't think there's a future in trying to convince your boss that a PIP shouldn't happen. You don't disagree that something needs to be done. You know something needs to be done, but you're a nice person and don't want to make the employee feel bad. Sometimes managers have to do things that are not pleasant for anyone in the room. It comes with the territory. There's a good chance down the road you'll not only have to tell this person to improve or hit the road, you'll have to have that meeting where you must give them the opportunity to be successful somewhere else. That's the worst thing I've ever done in business, and I do not sleep the night before it happens, but someone needs to do it once in a whle. It comes with the territory.


mrreliable's picture

I apologize for laying out all my disagreements without providing any positive suggestions for how to deal with the situation.

I believe it would be best for all involved for you to take an assertive stance in presenting and implementing the PIP. You're obviously compassionate toward this (and other) employees, you have empathy, and you understand all the positive traits this employee exhibits. If you don't drive this train someone else will. Everyone, including you, will be better off if you take control of this situation. Trying to avoid the unpleasantness associated with it will not do anyone any good.

If it were me in that situation, I'd probably prefer you deliver the bitter medicine than someone else.

G3's picture

AngelicDoctor - thanks for the question. Good idea to reach out and get some suggestions. This must be hard for you and you're taking some responsibility for the situation. 

1.) What thoughts do you have about how I should deliver this message to the direct?

Do it in person, face to face, if possible. Deliver this message in the spirit of Professional love. Let them know that it appears that they are on thin ice and that you want to help them make a plan to improve and get themselves out of the situation. Do everything that you can to help them grow and demonstrate measurable improvements.

2.) And/or what thoughts do you have about persuading my boss that this action need not be taken?

Don't bother. They're your boss. And it's a manager's job to retain and help grow their directs. Show your boss that your direct is valuable by putting the PIP in place and then showing their results & improvement.

Consider looking at it as an opportunity for you to make every last effort that you can to help that person improve. Hopefully this will lead to an improved performance from the direct, a stronger working relationship between you and them, and better results for the company. If it does not, then at least you know that you did everything you could, from this point on, to try and retain your direct.

It sounds you might end up in a "steel cage death match" situation. If so, then you might find helpful guidance in the this podcast here:

Those are my thoughts. Take what you like and leave the rest. I hope it turns out well for everyone involved. 

angelicdoctor's picture

Thanks for the advice, MidCM33.  As much as I believe mrreliable's thoughts are valuable and sober and are probably not without some merit, I appreciate your approach, guidance and delivery of it.  I will definitely review that episode as well.

angelicdoctor's picture

Heh, even HR has a negative definition for this action...

"Please be sure to assess if the situation at hand is truly at PIP level, meaning the activity was egregious enough to warrant this final stage or this is increased formal discipline."

Direct quote from the director of Human Resources...

mrreliable's picture

This is going on for three months without any resolution?

The HR statement seems to confirm my original statement. A PIP is the "last chance for an employee on the brink, not a punitive measure...." If you're still equating the two, I would suggest that's why you're three months in and no closer to resolving the issue.

A PIP is not a punishment. It's a last-ditch effort by management to make the direct's employment work. If the direct is lucky enough to work for a company that gives them a last chance to salvage their employment, if they're unable or unwilling to make the changes they should try something else. It's not doing any favors to the direct to keep them lingering in a situation where it's not working.

angelicdoctor's picture

Sadly, yes.  This has been drawn out for far too long due to many reasons,i.e. loss of key personnel, dramatic increase in workload and shifting priorities, etc.


My management sees the PIP as a means to 'manage out' this very experienced and knowledgable engineer though he has lacked in delivering on projects.  He is a fantastic operational resource so in terms of troubleshooting and resolving technical issues he is top notch and probably better suited to a NOC environment.  When it comes to delivering on network projects, however, he has been severely challenged.  He's got one more shot to prove himself in this regard with the assignment of this PIP and its tie in to a major hardware replacement effort we have. 


Please prayer a prayer and wish him well.

NLewis's picture

...but in the hands of some managers it could certainly be used as one.  I worked for a company once where management would sometimes "lateral" employees they didn't like into "equivilent" positions that had much higher-than-normal turnover rates.  On paper the pay and position were the same.  The pressures and duties were definitely not.

If angelicdoctor's gut is telling them that the PIP is not being properly utilized - either as an unfair attempt to push the employee out or simply mis-applied by upper management - then they should push back.  My father always taught me "My mission.  My men.  Myself."  Stand up for your people.  

If they do need correction - that's on you.  You're the manager.  Work with them for 6 months to a year to get them up to speed before you let them go.  Maybe start with "informal" O3's making sure you're giving and receiving feedback and pushing deadlines on a weekly basis.  Find out what measurables constitute a "good job" in the eyes of management and then deliver on them.  Make sure the employee understands the consequences if they don't.


Good luck either way.

mrreliable's picture

I have to respectfully disagree. Your interpretation of your previous management situation was that they pushed employees into less attractive job situations because they "didn't like" them. What you would do with employees you didn't like?

I actually suspect what you interpret as "didn't like" could be described by the management as "wasn't performing at the level required." This is one reason why the focus should be on behavior, not personal impressions.

Pushing people into less attractive jobs because management "didn't like" them is a false comparison. In fact, abrasive laterals are exactly what will happen when a company doesn't have performance improvement plans. Again, PIPs are a benefit to employees.

"Work with them for 6 months to a year to get them up to speed before you let them go. "

I'd resent the heck out of any management that took that approach with me.

This is clearly a disagreement over the integrity of the performance improvement plan concept. Some people think that giving an underperforming employee a last chance to turn things aroud is because management is a bunch of meanies making employees miserable because they don't like them.

If it's not working, deal with it as directly and as soon as possible. Otherwise it's going to fester. You might thing you're standing up for your employees, but it's in nobody's best interest to string out a situation that's not working. Fix it, or both or both should move on.

pucciot's picture
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mreliable :


I think you misinterpreted this statement

"Work with them for 6 months to a year to get them up to speed before you let them go. "


I think they meant that as --- to work with them for 6 months to a year to get them up to speed -- before -- or instead of --- you throw in the towel and let them go, too easily or too soon.

Otherwise -- Yes, I agree with you on this topic.



mrreliable's picture

I understood  what it meant.

This situation has already been at the hot stage for over three months. They've certainly already been working to get this person up to speed for well over six months.

The director said to put this person on a performance improvement plan. The director clearly thinks this is a critical situation. On this thread I've seen many reasons why the director's wishes should be ignored. I don't believe that's in the best interests of anyone invovled.

NLewis's picture

Being in a position of authority does not make someone immune to being petty, vindictive, punitive, or just plain wrong.  Our job as managers is to assess whether or not our directs are being treated fairly and react accordingly.

One month after hiring one of my directs I was called into a meeting with two of my peers, the VP, and the owner.  My peers were demanding my new-hire be let go.  Not one of their grievances had been communicated to myself or to my direct.  I pointed this out and asked for three months to address their concerns.  Three years later she is a knowledgeable and valuable employee, hits all of her metrics, and works closely with one of the very peers who’d asked she be let go.  The other peer later apologized to me for how the whole thing was handled.

Had I simply responded in the way the company was expecting we would have lost an important asset.  Part of our job as managers is to assess whether the course of action being taken by the company is correct.  Most times it is.  When it’s not then it’s our job to push back – especially when it’s on behalf of our people.


mrreliable's picture

NLewis, I think that's a great example of what this thread is all about. Regardless of what term you'd place on your action,, you adopted a performance improvement plan. There was a problem that threatened this person's employment, you identified the specific concerns, you communicated clearly with the employee, and you laid out specific things that needed to change in a specific amount of time. The employee fixed it. Your actions had all the elements of a performance improvement plan whether it was written or not.

I've made the point that a performance improvement plan is not a punitive measure, that it's a benefit to an employee, and I think your experience supports that perspective. As you stated, if you hadn't stepped in with a performance improvement plan, the employee would have been terminated.

In my opinion, whether it's "pushing back" on upper management is a distraction from the more important issue of whether a performance improvement plan is a good tool for salvaging struggling employees.

uwavegeek's picture
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I expect this has resolved one way or the other, however I wanted to chime in. 

As a high S manager, I've been in this position before with a high D director.   I'll list a few things I've observed about the PIP process.

  • If your boss says 'put him on a PIP', you need to do that and professionally subordinate (check the podcasts for this).   Make no mistake.   The sooner you do this, the sooner you can get in front if it and maybe influence the outcome.   Delays and pushbacks once the decision is made will likley reduce your boss' confidence in you and possibly create the perception of a bias that will undermine any improvement reporting as the PIP goes into effect.
  • PIP is a tool.   You can turn employees around if you are sincere and clearly communicate the gap in performance and results.   You may well need to combat the perception that once a PIP was in place, the employee is as good as fired.  I have turned 5-6 PIPs around into productive employees in the last several years.  I've also lost one who refused to try as he assumed it was just a formality before being fired.
  • If you've been providing feedback and holidng regular one on ones, the PIP should be no surprise.  If they are surprised, evaluate your own methods and see where you can tighten up your managerial performance.  (I had to do this earlier in my career).
  • Give your employee some grace as being put on a PIP can be emotionally damaging.   Be compassionate, clear, and firm.   If they get mad and call you names (its happened to me), stay calm and let them vent a bit.  Anger is a form of energy which can be redirected.   Practicing the delivery also helps here.
  • Set dates and milestones and report on those sucesses to your boss weekly.   
  • Lastly, don't let off the gas.   Seeing improvments in the first two weeks is easy however backsliding happens all to often.  Even after the PIP is removed, make sure you continue to hold your direct to the standard.
  • Be careful not to put retention over results (its easy to do as a high S, trust me).   This is a trap that I've fallen into before.  If the employee does not improve, move to terminate.  

All the best,



angelicdoctor's picture

This is, by far, the best advice I have received on this topic.  Coming from another High S, this is natural to expect, I suppose.  Especially true is your first point as this has been a constant source of friction between yours truly and my boss.  However, now that the action has finally taken place all seems better both from the perspective of my relationship with my boss and in the performance with the employee.  While the latter is still not yet perfect, there has been noticeable improvement.  I will definitely be putting the rest into practice.

uwavegeek's picture
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