Culture Killer: PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT PLANS

#988 of the 17,000 Ways We Can Wreck Our Company’s Culture

Welcome back to this never-ending series of ways in which you’re thoroughly screwing up the culture at your company. (This series is never-ending for a. job security on my part, and b. because as human beings we’re just wired to go haywire with one another at work, especially when you sprinkle in the complicated dimension of leading other people. It really is a recipe for disaster for which you can let yourself off the hook, but only by about 10%. 90% of the onus is on you to just do better, Boss.)

So, we are gathered here today to talk about the ways you can mess up your performance improvement plan process. I know, I know. For many of you, anything with the word “process” in it means you’ve already broken out into hives. But not having a way to systematically weed out the losers under-performers on your team means you’re killing your culture in an agonizingly slow and tortuous fashion for everyone else in your company to watch happen. It’s like a slow-motion car crash that they get to witness and also get hurt by because under-performers are contagious to the B- and C-players and just plain repulsive to the As.

So, nod along with me that having a coherent way to work with people to “shape them up or ship them out” (please don’t ever quote me on that) is good for you, the good guys (the keepers), the bad guys (the ones to be shipped out to sea never to return), and the company (the hand that feeds you).

Where are you going awry in this admittedly uncomfortable aspect of being a leader? Check out the list below, which may or may not have been inspired by my own leadership blunders learnings over the years:

  • You’re all about loyalty in your office. You don’t have to worry about letting people go because once they join your team, they become like family, and they only leave when they retire or die (even if they’re woefully inadequate at everything they do). And WHAT KIND OF ANIMAL GETS RID OF THEIR “FAMILY,” even if you are on the brink of bankruptcy?

  • Upon reflection, you realize your performance management trend looks like this: you felt let down by Lara in January and said nothing, felt let down by Lara in February and said nothing, felt letdown by Lara in March and said nothing, felt letdown by Lara in April and said nothing. Now, you BLOW UP and fire Lara in May because she had a typo in her PowerPoint deck.

  • You never actually manage anyone to get better or get out; you arrange for a “restructuring of the department” every time someone sucks so you can avoid all of the difficult conversations and package them out, or even worse, dump them on someone else’s team.

  • “But he has gotten so much better” has become a motto for you. Tim was a 4, and now he’s plateaued at a solid 6. You have a great idea: let’s keep him around!

    • A variation on this motto is, “She’s trying.” Crystal really is trying to make her numbers. She hasn’t made her budget in 18 months, but her effort is admirable, so let’s keep her around!

  • You have a meeting with Joanne to let her know she’s going to need to improve to keep her job. (This meeting also included Shana, Ronny, Jim, and Lance because it was the team update meeting.)

  • Your M.O. is to finagle it so the laggards quit– you know, by making it, well, a bit of a living hell to stay.

  • On Monday, you attend a workshop and learn about best practices with Performance Improvement Plans– the formal way to set under-performers up to succeed. By Wednesday your entire team is on a PIP and you’re wondering why everyone is so on edge.

  • It’s really hard for you to tell Luan that you’re disappointed and he needs to start performing at a certain level because you’ve never specifically discussed a “certain level” before and even you don’t know what that level looks like. Do you really need to set clear expectations? They’re such a hassle, like giving feedback and getting oil changes.

  • You delegate all aspects of putting Rhonda on a Performance Improvement Plan to Carlie in HR—because that’s what she does, right? Deal with the humans? And then you get to go golfing. It’s with a client, so…

  • Your partner at home is So. Freaking. Tired. of hearing you complain about Albert– the thing Albert said today, the thing Albert didn’t say today, the report Albert messed up today, the tone of voice Albert used with you today, the socks Albert was wearing today, the crumbs on Albert’s face today. Enough with Albert already.

  • You really, really like Emma. Everyone likes Emma– even Roger in accounting who hates everything that’s not a number. The problem is that Emma isn’t good at her job, or the job she had before you were able to “rotate” her into the one she’s mucking up right now. What to do about the Emma problem? Nothing. She’s just so nice.

  • You’re proud of yourself for being clear with Zara about what the expectations of her were, communicating that she wasn’t delivering on those expectations, setting up a plan to help her meet them, and then you drop off the face of the earth when she needed the support you had all but promised her. It’s kind of like you threw her a lifeline and then went out for a smoke.

  • Chad, the sales all-star who wins the incentive trip to Cabo every year, is also an all-star jerk. You choose to overlook the company values you have emblazoned on your lobby walls (specifically the “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work” one) and keep him on board– becau$e of no particular rea$on– even if it means the rest of the sales team has to watch their backs and Maureen in the back office has to work overtime to fix all his mistakes.

  • Yeah, you’ve been holding onto a few people who haven’t been making the cut, because you’re too busy to literally make the cut. You have no idea that your A-team players resent you for spoiling the well with mediocrity and are more than entertaining headhunter calls, hoping to move to a workplace they’re proud of and can learn from their colleagues. You have no idea that your B- and C- team players are basking in your inertia, feeling quite at home in the, “We get to fly under the radar forever!” feather-filled nest you’ve created.

  • You scoffed at Amanda, your peer in the leadership team meeting, for not being willing to let go of her degenerate assistant– not realizing that you were holding up a big shiny mirror to your hypocritical face. You still fail to see that the things you pick on others for are really the things you don’t like in yourself… but that’s a subject maybe best left for therapy.

  • As an ardent subscriber of the “sink or swim” philosophy, you believe you’re absolved from the whole “management thing” because “the good ones figure it out themselves and don’t need to be told what to do.” Riiiiiight. Consequently, there’s a lot of sinking around you and you wonder why you’re spending so much time recruiting.

  • Simon has been on a Performance Improvement Plan for the last seven months, not meeting the expectations and timelines and milestones and metrics and yet you aren’t Doing Anything About It. You wonder why Simon is confused a year later when you finally do get up the nerve to let him go, saying “but you’ve been on a performance plan,” not seeing that for Simon, the PIP meant nothing other than a way for you to document the inadequacies that you consistently chose to accept. By not checking in on the plan, you sent the message to Simon that it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

  • You lord your power over everyone under your name in the org chart by talking about firing people–– who you’ve fired in the past, who should get fired in Theresa’s department, who you’ll fire next…

  • You get trigger happy and let people go at the first sign of disappointment– like when Helena started and asked too many questions in her first team meeting… bye. Or when Jay saved the file in the wrong folder in OneDrive… bye.

  • You use the expression “shape up or ship out” a lot at your team meetings. Who does that?

Let’s all agree that managing people who aren’t doing well– and maybe even managing them out– is one of the hardest parts of leadership. It’s just plain easier to manage model employees. Unfortunately, management does involve management from time to time. This means you’ll need to set clear expectations, let people know when they’re blowing them away & when they’re coming up short, agree on a plan to help them improve, and act out of integrity if and when they still don’t cut the mustard. Acting out of integrity might mean letting people go, setting them free to do something great in an environment that just might be better for them. Maybe they just need to get away from you? (Ouch. I didn’t mean that. It just worked well there.) In all seriousness, allowing people to flounder is just as bad for them tomorrow as it is for you today.

 

Want more Culture Killer articles? You know you do:

 

Jodi is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life, loves red Skittles (maybe too much) and finally got a Happy Spectacular logo tattoo.

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