Have we outgrown the era of Performance Improvement Plans?


Author —Auteur — Karen Bramhill

“Who wants to be the leader?” 

I smile as I scroll through the Zoom participants on my screen, wondering whom the instructor will select, yet intuitively knowing he will call my name. 

“Karen, what about you?” 

The invisible “I’ll go first” sign is something I’ve always carried–in life and in my career. I’ve naturally gravitated to leadership positions over the years, but more and more these days, I find myself reflecting on what it really means to lead. Particularly when it comes to the privilege of leading teams.   

Part of being a leader means embracing the responsibility of making tough decisions. 

Recently I was faced with the difficult task of letting go of a talented team member whose skillset didn’t align with their role. While transparency was maintained throughout the process, and it was the right decision for both the organization and the team member, other team members were surprised and caught off guard. This led me to question if there could have been a different way to approach performance management.  

Rather than relying on the traditional performance improvement plan (PIP) that typically happens behind closed doors, maybe a new model could be built where we openly acknowledge a team member’s struggles and seek collective support from their teammates to help them grow. 

In this model, we would dismantle the stigma surrounding these challenges and create an environment where the team member, once past any initial embarrassment, feels relieved to know they are not alone. As the saying goes; it takes a village.

In this model, the entire team could come together, offering guidance, assistance, and mentorship to help the struggling teammate develop the necessary skills, mindset and core competencies for success. 

Of course, implementing this approach requires a foundation of trust and open communication. It necessitates an environment where team members feel safe discussing their vulnerabilities and seeking support to overcome obstacles. 

This model challenges the belief that performance issues should remain hidden, and would foster a culture of collaboration, empathy, and growth.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to venture beyond the status quo, beyond the definition that leaders are simply individuals who make tough decisions, and lean into the notion that leaders chart new courses and create space for team members to in turn explore new paths and solutions. 

This is how we can create the type of culture that thrives and endures. 

Next time, if we find ourselves in a situation where an employee is struggling, rather than turning to a PIP we’re going to turn to their teammates to collectively offer them tools and strategies to succeed in their role. Although this approach won’t always guarantee a successful outcome, we anticipate it will contribute to cultivating a more transparent and supportive team culture. 

What do you think? 

Would you employ this type of performance improvement model in your organization –why or why not? 

We’ll let you know how it turns out for us!

Karen Bramhill

Chief Experience Officer

Artist, epidemiologist, operations specialist and true lover of life; Karen is a true polymath that brings a wealth of care and knowledge to every engagement. And for the record, ambiguity and her are not the best of friends.

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