Receiving a PIP Unexpectedly

Q: After 10 years of service, my manager sat down with me and gave me a performance improvement plan. I was shocked. This came out of the blue. There are very specific requirements in the document. If I don’t meet these specific requirements, I could be terminated. What is your take? Does this happen often in corporate America? I am shocked, angry and afraid. What do you suggest that I do?

A: A performance improvement plan (PIP) should almost never come as a surprise unless there was something you did that was so concerning and unexpected that a PIP needed to be developed quickly to address the concern. Typically a PIP is the step taken after there has been significant counseling and coaching. In most cases, I would expect a verbal warning to be given before a PIP was issued.
In almost every company across the US, managers are addressing performance concerns nearly every day. Concerns around employee performance range from an employee arriving late to work on a regular basis to an employee embezzling funds from their employer. Managers are often responsible for the performance of their department, function or business unit. Often poorly performing employee hinder the productivity of others.

This may not apply in your case, but I know of situations where employees are shocked when they have received a PIP, even though there have been considerable discussion around the employee’s performance. The employee has been counseled, coached, warned, given significant feedback and the employee stills seems surprised when a PIP is presented.

If I were you, I would read the PIP carefully. If you feel the document is inaccurate, I would request a meeting with your manager. I would ensure that you are prepared for the meeting, with a written list of your concerns. Do your best to maintain a professional demeanor in your day-to-day interactions and during this meeting. During this meeting, your manager may provide some clarity on expectations, concerns, etc. You can also write a rebuttal explaining your position regarding the PIP. However, your memo does not invalidate the PIP.

I understand your concerns. Receiving a PIP is stressful enough, but receiving it unexpectedly is beyond stressful.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.