PIPs: It’s Impossible to Explain Why We Still Use Them.

January 3, 2024

PIPs: Unraveling the Mystery of a Flawed System (And Building a Better One)

Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) sound good on paper. An employee struggles, so we offer a structured path to success. Unfortunately, reality often paints a bleak picture. PIPs, despite their good intentions, are riddled with problems that can undermine their effectiveness and even harm employee morale. Let’s delve into the key issues lurking beneath the surface of these seemingly well-meaning plans.

  1. The Stigma of the Scarlet “P”: From the moment an employee is placed on a PIP, a dark cloud hangs over them. They’re branded as underperformers, their confidence plummets, and colleagues may shy away. This negativity fosters stress and anxiety, making it even harder to focus on improvement. Not convinced? Just check forums such as Reddit.
  2. Reactive Band-Aid, Not Proactive Care: PIPs often come after performance has significantly dipped, making them feel punitive rather than preventative or problem-solving. By the time a formal plan is implemented, trust is often broken, and addressing the root cause becomes an uphill battle.
  3. One-Size-Fits-All Fallacy: Every employee is unique, with individual strengths and weaknesses. A cookie-cutter PIP approach ignores these differences, leading to generic goals that may not address the specific areas needing improvement. The end result is typically the leader’s plan and what they think the right steps are.
  4. Lack of Support, A Sea of Doubt: Once a PIP has been executed, it’s on the employee to change. PIPs often don’t include open and frequent communication or ongoing support. Managers often juggle heavy workloads, leaving little time for dedicated coaching or genuine feedback. This leaves employees feeling isolated and lost at sea while the end is nearing.
  5. The Unwritten Ending: Even with successful improvement, the threat of termination may still loom. The “PIP as probation period” narrative creates a constant pressure cooker environment, hindering genuine performance progress.


Let’s stop asking, “What should a performance improvement plan (PIP) include?” or “How long should a performance improvement plan last?” and start looking at a more effective alternative. A high performance coaching approach.

  • Regular Feedback and Open Communication: Foster a culture of ongoing feedback and development, not just waiting for performance to dip before intervening.
  • Addressing the Root Cause: Too often we say here’s the problem now fix it and the PIP gives you x number of days to turn performance around.  Get better or else isn’t instructive.  Help them peel back the layers to identify the true cause of the problem.  When you do that, you enable them to identify solutions and when they identify the solutions, they are more likely to follow through on them.
  • Tailored Support and Coaching: Invest in personalized development plans with specific goals, targeted resources, and regular mentorship.
  • Building Trust and Transparency: Take time to get to know the people on your team. When you do so, you’re creating an environment that supports honest feedback and emphasizes collaborative problem-solving.

By addressing the pitfalls and focusing on proactive support, we can create a performance management system that fosters growth, not fear.

Remember, employees are not machines requiring repair. They are valuable individuals who deserve a workplace that prioritizes their development and success. Let’s move beyond the PIP stigma and towards a more positive approach to performance management.  Learn more about our High Performance Coaching approach.

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