Is a PIP the First Step in Firing an Employee?

Used Properly, a PIP Can Help an Employee Succeed. Troels Graugaard/E+/Getty Images

Interested in performance improvement plans? PIPs are a popular topic with readers because so many organizations do them wrong and use them for all of the wrong reasons. I receive many questions from readers in email and when a question might interest other readers, I share them.

Reader Question:

In terms of Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs), how does a manager do them? Is it appropriate for the manager to go "fishing" for feedback from other managers about the person on the PIP?

For example, if someone is serving their client group, and is put on a PIP, how does the manager find out if building trust has improved for the person on the PIP without asking each week for feedback from the client group? Is this the right procedure?

Also, in your experience, do PIP's really work? Or are they usually just the start of a paper trail to build up a legal defense to fire someone? I am a fellow human resources professional and I have not had experience administering PIPs before and I don't know if my boss is doing them right?

My Response:

Yes, I have seen PIPs succeed many times and sometimes they don't succeed, too. With motivated employees who went astray, it is as if you finally get their attention. I sometimes liken a PIP to hitting someone up side their head with a two by four since no other performance coaching seemed to be working.

(Really, I'm a non-violent person, but with some employees, you just need to get their attention.

You need to help them understand that their performance issues are serious - and that they can cause employment termination.)

Following a successful PIP, the key for the manager is vigilance. You cannot allow the employee to slip back into the performance that earned him or her the PIP in the first place.

I never do a second PIP because, at some point, our adult employees need to take responsibility for their own performance and success. (To be honest, I don't really like to do them the first time because of the manager's and the Human Resources staff time they take for development and feedback. And, one more time, these are adults. Right?)

To answer the next part of your question, it is appropriate for a manager to confidentially solicit employee feedback or improvement from another manager, as long as that manager is the customer of the employee's service.

Feedback from another manager is also appropriate if the second manager directs part of the employee's work or a team on which the employee participates. It is not appropriate to solicit performance feedback from employees unless the solicitation is part of an informal or formal 360 feedback process.

Employment Termination Possibility

A PIP is often the start of paperwork that will eventually result in employment termination. That should not be the goal of the PIP although I suspect, in many organizations, it is.

This is because, despite your best efforts, an employee may not take responsibility for his actions and improve as required to succeed in the job.

So, with this potential in mind, you need to make sure that on the PIP:

  • the goals are completely relevant to the job,
  • enough detail exists to enable the employee to succeed,
  • as much as possible, the goals are measurable, or if not measurable, the expected outcomes are described in such a way that the manager, HR, and the employee can agree on whether they were reached or not.

Meet with the employee every couple of weeks to discuss progress. Document all follow-up meetings and progress - or lack thereof. If you see little progress occurring despite these best efforts, it's time to consider firing the employee.


Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

The site has a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so the site cannot be definitive on all of them for your workplace. When in doubt, always seek legal counsel or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. The information on this site is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.

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