Steps to Take if You’re Put On a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

So you messed up at work – came in late too many times, missed an important project deadline (and not just once), or your behavior has become a bit aggressive, i.e. angry outbursts that others have begun commenting on. Your company has now decided they have had enough and have put you on a performance improvement plan (PIP) which, essentially, is a write-up that includes specific actions you need to take to improve in the area identified.

Typically, this is a final warning to you – if you don’t make desired changes, then you will be walked out the door. This is their message to you: get in the game or get out. But is this really the end?

This will depend on the manager and the company. For some, this is just a ‘going through the motion’ to satisfy HR or employment laws; they really don’t think you’ll make any improvements to make their required changes which may not be clear. For others, they know you have good skills and have added value to the company so they are giving you a chance to return to the good worker you were.

However, these situations are not always handled properly – bad behaviors that have gone noticed but nothing done, sometimes for years. No verbals – well, perhaps a ‘talking to;’ nothing written up to document the behaviors and how they have been handled. So, suddenly, you are now presented with a PIP – surprise!

But, is it really a surprise? Most times, employees know their behaviors are not appropriate but, because there has been no real action taken, they blindly feel that things are going well but feel blind-sided when this type of action is taken. But, I would tell you to calm down as there are steps to take to correct your behavior and become a good employee. It will take action on your part, so here are steps to take:

  • Don’t be defensive or indignant – this seems to be a natural response for many when confronted about their behavior; we don’t like to disappoint or to be embarrassed so the ego fights back. This is the time to breathe and absorb what is being said and the changes you need to make that will put you back in the good graces of your boss. Defensiveness is fought with more defensiveness and, in situations like this, you will lose as they have the upper hand. When you don’t adversely react, this will soften their position
  • Get clarity on their actions – don’t be afraid to ask questions and get specifics as to the behaviors they’ve noticed, which should include details (dates, times, circumstances, etc). Get clear on the actionable steps that your boss is asking you to take and in what time-frame; in other words, what is it going to take before they aren’t watching you or will trust you again. Without this, you will flounder, going about your day thinking you are doing the work to only be told ‘not enough.’
  • Mea Culpa – apologize for your behavior or missteps that have lead to the company taking this type of action, whether you think you have done ‘that wrong’ or not. Apologies go a long way to showing someone that you acknowledge your part and want to improve; in work situations, this is what your company wants to see. You can explain circumstances that may have lead to your adverse behaviors, such as car problems, focusing on another part of your job and not one that your boss needed you to focus on, or that you were dealing with an ill family member. While excuses are just that, it could help your case in how they feel about you.
  • Assess, Assess, Assess – your behavior. This is the time to go back and review the situation(s) you have been presented with that have led to the write-up. And honestly, including your attitude (which plays a big part in this). When you were late – did you leave on time or think ‘ it’s only 5 minutes.’ When you missed deadlines, were you distracted by other things (including your personal life) or were frozen in fear that it wouldn’t be good enough or get rejected. When you demanded your way, made snide comments to someone, or even yelled, not acting like a true team player, is this how you act in other situations or was there something you were upset about but didn’t acknowledge at the time. You can’t make corrections if you don’t look at your own behaviors, perceptions and expectations, taking full responsibility for them. This is what sets you free and when your change will occur.
  • Determine how you will go about making the improvements you have been presented with – it’s best to write what steps you have to take, in detail, and along with a timeline for each of them. Managing your time, being more present, and having a good attitude are concepts that are perceptual in nature but giving them concrete steps works towards better behavior: actions you will take first thing (‘eat the frog’); dates and times for deliverables; setting a time for leaving the house earlier; more networking with team members; regular check-ins for feedback with your boss; participating more in meetings and sharing of ideas -these are all considerations to include in your plan
  • Take action – TODAY! Sure, you will need to lick your wounds, but this is not the time to stay in ‘victim mode’ and wallow in your misfortune. A PIP is a big warning call – possibly the final one you will receive. So getting to work on making any improvements you are tasked with will lead to leaving this behind. It may be the wake-up call you need to determine if you have lost interest in your job, are not challenged enough, or need to work on your personal development to create new, positive behaviors and mindset. It could also show that it might be time to leave the organization behind.

Getting a performance improvement plan is not the end of you career. You have been given a second chance to be the great employee they hired and make a difference for your organization. The choice is yours to make so choose wisely.

Committed to Your Success Coaching & Consulting focuses on workplace happiness and organizational success. If you need help gaining clarity on your business or career goals, why not get some help – stop the struggle and call today to get started! or For more great tips, visit our other blog at



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