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29 Oct 2020 Austin Belcak

What Is A Performance Improvement Plan And How To Respond To It

You may not like it at first. But if your boss has just implemented a performance improvement plan as a way to track and monitor your performance at work, don’t panic.

While you may think this is the first step toward getting fired or demoted, that’s not always true.

In fact, it may even be a sign that the company is invested in you and wants to help you get back on track. In which case, the best response to your performance improvement plan is to set goals to not only meet but also exceed your boss’s expectations.

And, in this post, I’m going to show you how to do just that! Here’s what I’ll cover along the way:

  • What a performance improvement plan is and what it includes
  • How and when employers consider them appropriate
  • How to best respond to a performance improvement plan

Let’s dive in!

What Is A Performance Improvement Plan?

So, you’ve been having some issues at work. Maybe you’re not meeting your sales quota or deadlines. Or maybe your productivity and execution on important tasks have been subpar lately.

Whatever the reason, the performance improvement plan is your employer’s way of addressing their concerns about your work performance with a detailed plan of what it would take to get you back in good standing.

The performance improvement plan will likely include the following:

  • A detailed list of the current areas where you’re falling short at work
  • Action items to get you back on track
  • Metric-based goals you’ll need to meet to show you’re improving
  • Specific dates by which you need to reach those goals
  • Next steps if those goals are not achieved by the set date

When A Performance Improvement Plan Is Appropriate

While some people may tell you getting a performance improvement plan is always bad, your boss might see things differently.

For example, a performance improvement plan might be an appropriate response when they want to:

  1. Make it super clear what will help you get back in good standing
  2. Give you one last shot to improve before taking more serious action (e.g. termination of your contract)
  3. Save themselves time hiring someone new when you may just need a wake-up call

True or not, by focusing on one of these more positive reasons, you can respond to your performance improvement plan in a way that helps put the ball back in your court.

Manager Going Over A Performance Improvement Plan

How To Respond To A Performance Improvement Plan

If you’re like most people, the moment your boss gives you a performance improvement plan will be a huge blow to your ego.

You may find yourself thinking: “Ugh! Does this mean I’m going to be fired? Should I just quit?” This response is normal. But does it help you? Not really.

So, what should you do? What’s the best way to survive and get past the performance improvement plan better than you started?

Decide whether the job is worth it

First things first — is the job even worth it? Now, I don’t mean is the money good. While that may be an important factor that’s kept you there so far, what I’m really referring to is whether the job is worth it for the growth of your career.

Will achieving the goals on your performance improvement plan benefit you and the company in the long run? Can you achieve them in the time allowed without going insane? If your answer to these questions is “No” then this may just be a sign you need to find a new job.

Get specific feedback from your boss

Okay, so, let’s say you do want to keep this job. Well, rather than just reviewing the performance improvement plan, signing it, and then passively waiting until your next review, be proactive. Meet with your boss to get detailed feedback on the areas you need to improve.

In that meeting, ask questions like “What specific things would you recommend I do to improve? What would a successful turnaround look like to you?” Asking these types of questions will do two important things. It will change how your boss sees you — from an underperforming employee to someone dedicated to being good at their job. And it also gives you a better idea of exactly what you need to do to deliver or, better yet, over-deliver on their expectations.

Track your progress

From both your performance improvement plan letter and the direct feedback from your boss, you now have a set of goals to achieve. Likely, there will be a future meeting to review and discuss whether you’re achieving those goals in 30, 60, or 90 days. But don’t wait until then to find out how you’re doing. Track your progress!

Starting today, open up a new spreadsheet and set up the following columns:

  • Initiative (leave some room for a brief description)
  • Date started
  • Key metric as of the start date (e.g. current spend as of 1/1/2016)
  • Date ended (if applicable)
  • Key metric as of the end date/after period of time (e.g. current spend as of 3/31/2016)
  • Result (as it relates to your key metric)
  • Notes on what prompted you to work on the chosen initiative

Now, every time you have an idea on how you can help (or help others) increase the company’s bottom line, fill out each of those columns. By doing this, when you next meet to discuss your performance, you’ll have more control over the conversation. Why?

Because you’ll have your own data that shows you’re improving! Plus, if needed, you can use the data to help cover any blind spots in how your boss perceives the value you’re bringing to the company.

Get help if you need it

You may hate asking for help. But receiving a performance improvement plan likely means you need it in one area or another. So, again, don’t fight it. If you’re going to come out better on the other side, you need to make sure you’re doing whatever it takes to get better.

Sometimes that looks like asking a colleague to help teach you how they do similar tasks more efficiently. And other times that’s reviewing the most significant weaknesses in your performance (e.g. sales calls) and then heading over to Google, typing in “cold calling techniques”, and finding blog articles, online courses, and coaches — whatever it takes to help bring your skills to the next level.

Maintain a positive outlook

If you want to keep your job, spending time being angry about receiving a performance improvement plan isn’t going to do you any favors. So, shift your mindset to view the performance improvement plan as a challenge that you can overcome.

It may take hard work. It may even take a vulnerable look at all of the areas where you’re coming up short. But, if you can stay positive throughout it, you’ll foster a greater sense of respect from your boss — which makes it even harder to let you go. Plus, according to research, you’re more likely to succeed at work, if you approach it with a positive attitude!

Final Thoughts

No one wants to receive a performance improvement plan. On the surface, it’s a sign that you’re not performing at the level that you need to be. And it can be a significant blow to the ego.

But does it mean you need to quit? Or that you won’t survive in the company much longer? Nope!

It may just be a wake-up call that you can use to not only get back on track, but also begin to accelerate your career. If that’s the case, follow the advice I gave in this article on how to respond to a performance improvement plan.

Or, on the other hand, if receiving the performance improvement plan makes you see it’s finally time to start looking for a new job, check out How to Get a Job Without Connections!

Austin Belcak

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people land jobs without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online. His strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, & Fast Company and has helped people just like you land jobs at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, & more.

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