Problem: I have a high performing person on my team who has a terrible attitude and even threatened me (which he denies to HR) and I have been told to put him on a PIP.  How do you work with someone in this case and how do PIPs work for attitudes?

Background: I inherited a high performing user with a terrible attitude over 3 years ago.  Although his attitude was manageable when he first started on my team, I still mentioned the attitude in his 3 reviews and that there was an expectation that he would improve.  This was not a surprise to him as I had multiple discussions about his negativity throughout the year.  

This year things got much worse due to two interactions where he showed out right insubordination to the management team and when meeting with me to discuss, he spent an hour telling me how terrible a manager I am and to make things worse, at one point said, "I would have punched you out, had I been in the office when you sent that."  He works on a remote site so luckily I don't have to find out if this was purely rhetoric or not, but regardless it is a threat.  

I discussed with HR and was told that it is his word against mine as far as the threat and he said it didn't happen.  So they asked me to put together a detail list of interactions that I had with him over the past 3 years that demonstrated the bad attitude.  I had been keeping track of all one on ones and discussion points and so this was practically complete.  It included 14 incidences in 3 years, along with supporting emails from him that demonstrated his contempt for me and the company in general.

Once HR in the remote location reviewed the information they said he will need a PIP (3 months) and this is where I need some help.  I suspect he will fix his attitude, with me, but as I'm in a different location I can't judge how he is on a daily basis.  Further I'm not even sure how to would judge attitude with a SMART objective, as it isn't measurable.  To be honest I'm not sure I wouldn't be biased either way at this point.

BariTony's picture

 Keep up regular O3s. Document everything. Focus on behavior. (on such-and-such a date, he threatened to punch out his supervisor), etc.

Frankly, I'm shocked the he wasn't fired for insubordination and making physical threats. Every employer I've ever worked for has had a zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior.This isn't a PIP issue at this point.

On the other hand, if your employer is fine with this behavior, I'd brush off your resume and start looking around for another opportunity. I would never work for a company where upper management thought it was acceptable for an employee to physically threaten their supervisor.



pucciot's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

 As MT is always saying, you can't focus on attitude, only on behavior.

I think Mark & Mike described behavior as something that you can see/hear on a video tape.

In many ways, the direct's attitude doesn't matter until it is manifest as a behavior.  That goes for Good and Bad Attitudes.


What I am saying is that the Title of your post is something of a contradiction.

If the attitude is so bad that it has negative manifestations of poor unprofessional behavior,  we cannot characterize this direct as a "High Performing"

It can be said that they are high performing in some areas of the job, but not high performing in general.


In any case,  I completely empathize with you.  I know what it is like to have a direct like that and struggle with it.

The PIP will only work if you can cite behaviors.  And anything you do at this point will be perceived as a punishment by your direct.  It will be putting pressure on his behavior.

Here are some ideas maybe.... 

Behavior : Direct says he'd punch somebody.

Goal : No mentioning of violence on or towards other employees or managers. (no brainer - let him know the target for this is "0")


Behavior: Employee hijacks the conversation on one topic to complain about something else

Goal : Staying on topic during business conversations.   (Yes, you will have to count the number of times he tries to side track the conversation.)


Behavior : Expressed unwillingness to comply with a manager's request

Goal : Reduce the outward expression of unwillingess - ( Say it like this, It sounds like defiance and insubordination, I'm sure that is not what you meant.  It would be more effective if you don't like an idea that you just keep quiet about your unwilingness to comply. )

  i.e. If you don't like it say you don't like it, but you will make your best efforts to comply.



Behavior : Verbally expresses reluctance to work with the PIP process

Goal : Participate with the PIP process. Assist in the creation and tracking of your own PIP.  (Let him know that he will be rated and evaluated on his participation with the PIP.)    Target like - meet with manager (x) number of times; meet PIP goals on time; express willingness (or not express unwillingness) towards participation in the PIP process, etc.

Good Luck this wont' be easy.

I am working with a similar situation right now, stay strong.


linkageanz's picture

Agreed. this is completely unacceptable. 

Personally, I would document everything with great detail. I would also, if circumstances permitted leave as the environment in which you work can effect other aspects of your life and it is essential that you are not impacting your mental wellbeing with this conflict you are being forced to endure on a daily basis.

Nat Brown


mike_bruns_99's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

First, this assumes you're located in the US.  If you're not, please let us know where you are located as some of this may change slightly.  

As others have said, what he did was unacceptable.  He is NOT a high-performer, if he feels that destroying his relationship with you is good for his career.  And make no mistake, he did.  

First, have your kept your boss in the loop?  Make sure he has your back and will give you political cover. He probably won't have to do anything, but you don't want to surprise him.

I think you're overestimating the power that HR has. I apologize in advance to the HR professionals out there, but in 99% of the companies, HR is a cost center.  Work with them, use their advice to keep from getting the company in trouble legally.  But if you have your documentation, move forward.  Go through the formal process with HR.  Put together the PIP, no matter what the format. 

You need to decide if the relationship can be repaired. From what you've said, it sounds like it isn't. And the situation can't continue.

But when you deliver the PIP to him, say verbally:  "Dude, it's obvious you don't like working for me. I don't know that your feelings are going to change.  I'm not going anywhere.  This is a 90 day PIP.  It is in both our best interests to change this situation. Internally or externally, before the 90 days are up.  He'll get the hint.  And you need to work like heck to make the transition work smoothly. 

Listen to the CORKY STORY podcasts on this site. Document like crazy and make sure you boss is in the loop.  But don't let that stop you from doing what's necessary.  As a manager, that's the part of the job that is painful, but rewarding.  You have to do what's necessary.

And I'm 100% serious here, buy him the resume review guide on this site.  Help him to move on to another opportunity that's better suited for him.

jacksal's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Hi PWenger,

Sounds like a problem and people above have provided great feedback and options to consider and work on.

High performer or not abuse is not acceptable and not to be tolerated and I have seen people dismissed as a result.

What is the firm competency framework and behaviours that define them?

Rather than reinvent the wheel use this to collectively agree on what success looks like in his role, use the firm language for discussions about development and provide feedback on how this is impacting on his high performance and promote transparency around the behaviours that will be recognised and rewarded and the implications where it is not.


  •  Personal Leadership - creates a postive, professional impression when interacting with others.
  • Maintains a positive outlook - recognises their own feelings and how their behaviour impacts on others.
  • Lives the values - behaves consistently with the firm's values in their interactions with others.

Hopefully that makes sense.Look forward to hearing how things progress.

Cheers Allan 3365

donm's picture
Training Badge

I'd fire him outright. I'd tell HR, "This is a textbook example of a hostile workplace. I won't work in one. You will either allow me to fire this man, or you'll talk to my lawyer. It may be 'He said. She said;' however, in this case there are two factors that mitigate the situation: I am a manager responsible for myself and all of my directs, and also I have nothing to gain by making a false accusation. You have a choice: Fire him now or allow me to do so."

Now, that's probably a bit harsh, as well, but again I'm trying to make my point clear on a written forum on the internet. I don't tolerate workplace violence and I do not tolerate liars. This man is responsible for both transgressions. Performance improvement plan? What could he do to improve enough to overcome those two things? Unless he starts healing lepers or turning lead into gold, I'd have him out the door with a security escort before his breakfast gets cold.

PWENGER's picture

First let me thank everyone who took the time to answer this forum question.

I completely agree that this is not a typical PIP situation, nor do I believe it can be really addressed by the PIP. The non-trivial part of the issue is that the person in question is in Europe where we have had difficulty firing people in the past. HR on this side of the pond (Canada) is fully on my side, and they believe he should be terminated immediately, but the European HR team believes that we would be in for litigation if we did so.

Also of note, both my boss and his boss are in agreement that this person needs to be terminated and are fully aware of the conversation I had with him.

So now I'm doing the following two things:
1) (Local) HR is going to review the local laws to see whether I can just refuse to work in a 'hostile environment,' therefore forcing the hand of HR in Europe. This was their idea as they know that our relationship is likely beyond repair.
2) In the meantime I have been writing up his PIP and as I need something measureable for this person to achieve, I will put tasks like: "Write a summary of how you can improve your communication to your supervisor, peers and customers. This will include the different forms of communication including email, phone and meetings. This will include examples of where you have not been successful in the past and what you could have done better. This document will continue to be refined during the first 30 days of the PIP with your manager and the items found within will also be used to judge the success of the PIP."

Thanks again everyone. I will keep you posted.

pucciot's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge


I sounds like you are in a very difficult situation.

I wish you the very best .


In the meantime have a laugh.  

Your description of the PIP reminded me of this :



NLewis's picture

 It looks like you're proceeding down a positive path.  One thing I'd consider in your situation - I don't think I'd meet with this person again without a witness.  If they're willing to lie to deny a threat then they may be willing to fabricate things you've said to make you look bad or even to accuse you of violating company policy.   If you decide to go this route it might help drive the point home with HR that you are concerned not just with this person's honesty but with your personal safety.  Part of the improvement plan would include markers making a witness no longer necessary.

Knowing he won't be able to lie again might help mitigate his behavior as well.  

PWENGER's picture

Thanks for your feedback.  I have been asked to record all conversations at this point as HR said they couldnt be in all our meetings.