How to survive a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) in sales
Performance Improvement Plans (or Personal Development Plans) are normally the final stage prior to being released from an employer.
Employees are usually put on PIPs because they cannot do their job, or cannot work well with other team members. Usually it is an honest attempt to help the employee improve. Sometimes, it is a formality just before firing, to shield the employer from a tribunal claim. In theory, if you achieve the objectives of the plan, you’ll keep your job and be able to move forward. However, in practice, many salespeople are fired following the PIP. How you handle yourself during the PIP process will make or break your success.
Accept the situation The most common reaction from a salesperson being placed on a PIP is to deny the legitimacy of the problem. But it doesn’t matter if your manager has made a mistake, it doesn’t matter if somebody else made mistakes, and it doesn’t matter if somebody else did the same thing you did without getting into trouble. If your reaction to the PIP is “I’m misunderstood, I didn’t do anything wrong, and I’m not going to change” then you will likely be fired. When you are on a PIP, all that matters is that your manager has executive power over you and your career. It may not be fair if your PIP is based on flawed data, but it is so.
An Opportunity Your manager (and other members of your team) may have formed a poor and mistaken opinion of you.
You may have been pigeon-holed. Remember that the PIP gives you a reason (and excuse) to behave in totally new ways, and other people will notice. This can release you from a negative pigeon-hole for good.
What to Ask Ensure you ask for clarification on how to comply with the PIP. You need to identify any vague or subjective language. If your PIP says you need to “improve,” ask your manager for a number or a metric, and suggest one; maybe a 25% improvement in sales revenues achieved. If the PIP says “100% of key bid decisions to be signed off by a peer in writing before being acted on” you need a list of which decisions are “key.” Take the PIP very, very literally. If it states that you need to do A, B, and C, you must do A, B, and C to the letter, exactly as described. You should also regularly check with your manager for feedback during the PIP period, in order to see which direction it’s heading in.
What to Tell Others Your staff and colleagues will find out you’re on a PIP. It is best to tell them first. Use positive language, and focus on how others can help you. Be a supportive participant, not a victim. Everyone will expect you to dislike or resent your PIP. This will make them reluctant to talk about it, and they may anticipate confrontation during any conversation about the PIP. So you should pleasantly surprise your manager (and everyone else) by taking the positive attitude that you’re going to use the PIP to improve yourself and your work. It is important to demonstrate that you are genuinely concerned and truly want to improve, rather than being negative and expecting to be dismissed. Tell your manager “I’m committed to doing anything and everything I have to do, to make my work excellent.”
Locus of Control Your “locus of control” is the location where you mentally imagine most of the control is, for a given situation. In other words, rather than saying “I was late because the traffic was bad”, say “I was late because I failed to allow enough time for traffic. I will always leave earlier in future”. In reality, none of us has 100% control over our environments or outcomes all of the time. The key is to be 100% focused on whatever is under our control. The salesperson who has only 5% influence on an outcome, but is 100% focused on their share of that influence, will ultimately be far more effective. Take ownership.
Job search It is not the case that PIPs can never end in success. Sometimes they do. But because they so often don’t, it’s sensible to be searching for a new sales job meanwhile, because a PIP is very much the ‘writing on the wall’ giving you a warning that you might lose your job at the end of the process. Nevertheless, don’t let your job search interfere with your focus on work. If you have to choose between the two, choose work if that’s likely to make the difference between meeting the terms of the PIP and not meeting them. In summary, do your best, make it clear you’re taking it seriously, and prepare for the worst but hope that you won’t need it.