You’ve Been Put on A Performance Improvement Plan: Now What?

woman frustrated at work

Canva / Fairygodboss Staff

Anouare Abdou for Hive
Anouare Abdou for Hive
June 23, 2024 at 8:14AM UTC
Ouch: You’ve been put on a performance improvement plan. It’s not a reason to panic, but it’s normal to be concerned — and you can still turn the situation around into an opportunity to thrive at work with the right response.
A performance improvement plan is really a trust repair plan, according to Justin Patton, an executive leadership coach with over 20 years of experience in learning and development.
“The manager issuing the performance plan no longer trusts that an employee has the skills or willingness to meet the desired expectations. Therefore, the manager needs them to understand the severity of the situation. Trust is on the line, and how you respond either widens the trust divide or creates a bridge that brings people back together,” he says.
Ready to meet the challenge and repair trust? Here are four tips for successfully navigating your way through a performance plan at work.

1. Take ownership quickly.

“The most constructive reaction is to take full ownership of your part in the performance breakdown,” says Patton. Getting defensive may backfire, whether it’s justified or not. Disrupt any preconceived notions of you that your manager may have by taking ownership quickly.
“Taking ownership doesn’t require you to sacrifice your character if you don’t agree with every part of the plan. It requires you to acknowledge what is true and commit to working on it,” adds Patton.
This can look like communicating that you weren’t aware of the problem, but you’re glad they brought it to your attention. Or acknowledging that you noticed a change in the relationship and you haven’t been as proactive as you should have been. It can also be an acknowledgment: The role requires skills that you haven’t mastered yet but are committed to learning. Whatever your case is, reflect and take the feedback in before formulating a response that demonstrates that you are taking responsibility.
“Ownership signals to people that you have self-awareness, and most people are willing to give you another chance when they believe you ‘get it,’” says Patton.

2. Work through your feelings.

“It is normal to have a lot of emotion bubble up when put on a performance plan. You might be angry at your boss. You could feel embarrassed. You might even be disappointed in yourself. You owe it to yourself to work through your feelings, not avoid them,” he adds. “Avoiding our emotions only causes them to bubble up, and we eventually blow up. That serves no one.”
Ask yourself, “Who and what do I need to forgive?” Doing this will help you show up in a more resilient way while you work to improve your performance. It will also help you stay tactful in your conversations with your boss and coworkers, which is crucial in this situation.
But if you feel that you can’t forgive, that all is lost when it comes to repairing trust, or you simply don’t want to put in the work required to meet expectations, it might be time to change jobs. As Patton puts it, “staying in a situation that you know isn’t the right space for you anymore doesn’t serve you or the business.”

3. Clarify expectations.

Let’s say you’ve decided to stay despite the negative feedback and give it your best shot. It’s super important to get on the same page as your boss and any other relevant stakeholders about what success will look like.
“Most performance plans will outline what success looks like in the next 30, 60, or 90 days. Make sure everyone involved in the process aligns on what success looks like. This clarity of this vision ensures everyone is moving in the same direction,” says Patton.

4. Have regular check-ins with your boss.

Finally, even if your boss might be the last person you want to talk to after being put on a performance plan, keeping the communication lines open is crucial.
“You cannot trust people you do not see or talk to, so you want to create a habit of checking in regularly with your manager. You want to meet enough to get regular feedback and coaching, market your progress, express appreciation and lessons learned, and ask questions like, ‘How do you feel I’m progressing on the goals we’ve set?’” recommends Patton.
“Do not wait until the end of the performance plan to review your progress. That isn’t fair to you or your manager. Trust is built through transparency and togetherness. You have to check in regularly to make that happen.”
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This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for someone who’s been put on a performance improvement plan? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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