As leaders, we all want our team to perform well. There are certain things that need to happen in order to move forward. Even if the plan is flexible as long as the end result is the same we still need people to perform at the top of their game. We use words like “accountability”, “ownership”, “responsibility” and “professionalism” as motivators. The reality is many of these words are used in a context that is meant to elicit guilt and to manipulate people into changing their behavior. Ah, the glory and beauty of performance improvement.

Yeah, I’m being ridiculously sarcastic but the truth in what I’m saying is what gives it humor. We have the fabled Performance Improvement Plan to try and help things along. The unfortunate part of the PIP is that it is typically used as a way to justify getting rid of a team member and employees know it. We can bury our heads in the sand and point out how employees are mis-interpreting things, but it won’t change their opinion. Time to face reality.

The idea, as we generically understand it, of improving someone’s performance is simply ineffective. We are attempting to control the behavior of an adult. If that were even possible, the prison system would be redundant. Most performance improvement attempts are thinly veiled token gestures to be able to say, “Well, we tried. They just weren’t interested in getting better.” What a sad commentary on leadership!

What’s the alternative? Certain things need to happen in order to remain viable as a business. It’s as simple as shifting your focus from the what to the who. If we are somewhat successful in changing behavior that appears to be an improvement in performance, we have still ignored the reason for the poor performance in the first place. We have ignored the person giving the performance. We are effectively communicating “What you do is more important than who you are.” Not exactly the most inspiring message really.

We must develop the person instead of simply focusing on improving their performance. Who cares if they glean some wisdom and knowledge from your organization and leave to go to another company. There will be those who choose not to do so. Developing people is a reflection of your brand. It is your reputation within your industry and one of the best recruiting tools you have at your disposal.

If you are known to develop people, you will be more likely to attract and retain the top talent in your industry. People make you money. A product or service is pretty much pointless if there aren’t people to create, improve, sell and service it. Investing in people is equally important as investing in R&D or marketing. The next time you’re thinking of how to improve someone’s performance, ask yourself how you can develop the person instead.

  • William,
    Great article! I love the focus on developing people vs. performance. You can’t improve performance without improving the capabilities, competence and commitment of your people.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work!
    Skip

  • Thanks so much for your comment Skip. You make a great point that performance is more than the end result. I appreciate your contribution.

    Cheers,
    William

  • Steve G

    William – I Love The Sarcasm and The Content – Great Article. So glad you took it upon yourself to discuss the P.I.P – Performance Review Plan.

    You are DEAD ON when you state… “The unfortunate part of the PIP is that it is typically used as a way to justify getting rid of a team member and employees know it. We can bury our heads in the sand and point out how employees are mis-interpreting things, but it won’t change their opinion.” I would love to know the origin of the PIP, and the original meaning behind it.

    What gets at me the most, (and I don’t mean to rant, but you struck a nerve) is how once the PIP is administered, (like an lethal injection), the managers stand around and watch the individual get stressed, tense, and fail! There is no follow up, there is no call to lead, and provide help…it is a slow death watch! How ridiculous is that style of leadership. All the while, the person who has rec’d the PIP is now dejected, and spending time reviewing their resume, downloading information from the company, and looking for employment elsewhere.

    In the end of your post, you state what I believe is the obvious… “If you are known to develop people, you will be more likely to attract and retain the top talent in your industry. The next time you’re thinking of how to improve someone’s performance, ask yourself how you can develop the person instead.”

    William, this was an extremely good post – and one that many leaders/managers should embrace. Thanks for getting me emotionally charged!

    SPGonz

  • Love your emotional energy around this topic Steve! I believe this to be the HR sacred cow in some respects. Time for some honest, adult conversations about it. Thanks for contributing!

    Cheers,
    William

  • As an educator the notion of “devloping the person” speaks to me. When leadership gives me the chance to grow and learn in meaningful ways, it’s a win-win because I bring back the new knowledge to better teach and collaborate. As an educator, I want to “develop the person” in each student. This confirms for me that it’s important to strive for policies and strategies that engage and empower children so they can develop their potential.

  • If there is a place where “developing the person” is needed, it is definitely in the field of education. Of course the students are of great importance, but those developing those students deserve the same amount of attention. Thanks for your contribution to the blog Maureen!

  • Great post Williamand I like the way that you have drawn people in at the start. I can certainly relate to the WHO rather than he WHAT. However I much prefer Simin Sinek’s – The Power of Why – show Great leaders Inspire action. From the Wright brothers, to Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs, they got people to follow because they wanted to, rather than feeling than they had to.

    It’s when we start with the WHY that’s most powerful, it’s a great little TED talk…that I feel sure that many would have seen?

    http://www.behaviouralsafetyservices.com/2012/04/08/the-power-of-why/

  • Thanks for the link to the TED talk with Simon. We have his book, Start With Why, listed on the Books page of our site as suggested reading. Your contribution is greatly appreciated!!

  • Erica

    Just stumbled upon this article and glad I did. I’ve been threatened with a PIP by my manger and have decided to quit rather than go through the “death march.” I know of former co-workers who have been put on PIPs which all ended in them being fired. If someone is able to stick through it, then they are rewarded with unemployment benefits. But, for most, it’s a stressful and humiliating experience. It also lowers morale in the workplace as everyone eventually finds out about it and it encourages gossip. No references will come out of it and you will have to explain to future employers why you were put on a PIP since that will show on your records. Fortunately, I have a good support network to help me make a change sooner than later so that I can leave my job with dignity.