For salespeople, performance improvements plans (also referred to as performance plans or, simply, plans) are part of having a hyper-competitive, goal-oriented job. Maybe you missed quota two months in a row, you’re not tracking well on the activities chart, or your outreach is suffering.
Regardless of the underlying reasons, seeing your manager slide a performance plan across the table can feel defeating. So, how do you respond to a performance improvement plan? You have two choices. Decide this isn’t the right company or role for you and walk away, or fight like hell to beat it. Here are a few tips on how to move forward.
What is a Performance Improvement Plan?
What is a Performance Improvement Plan?
A performance improvement plan includes expectations for your role, areas in which you’re falling short of those expectations, and steps for improving performance. If you don’t meet plan expectations during the evaluation period, you will be subject to disciplinary action and possible termination.
A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a detailed description of the expectations your employer and manager have for you in your current role, as well as areas in which you’re not meeting those expectations. It should include concrete steps for you to take to improve performance, and it should outline a clear timeline for completion -- usually within 30-, 60-, or 90-days of administration.
Here’s an example of the information outlined in a performance plan. Expectations in your role might include “Development of skills necessary to execute the BDR role successfully,” “Completing assignments effectively,” and “Improvement in following direction.” Examples of how you’re falling short of those expectations could include, “Has a tendency of asking for the easy way out of assignments,” or “Struggles to focus on the task at hand.”
Tasks for this PIP might be, “Effective completion of all ongoing assignments with appropriate thoughtfulness,” “Effective attention to detail,” and “Documented follow up on all activities.” At the end of the evaluation period, results would be removal from the plan, continuation of the plan, or termination of employment.
When faced with a performance plan, keep two things in mind:
Performance improvement plans should never be a surprise - During each one-on-one with your manager, actively discuss your performance and address any issues in real time. If your manager often cancels weekly check-ins or isn’t tuned into your performance, submit a formal request to discuss how you’re doing.
You should already have your own personal performance improvement plan in place - Never stop improving your performance. Twice a year, assess the strongest part of your game and the weakest. Review your sales process, conduct call reviews, learn from other salespeople, and find mentors to keep you on track.
If your PIP is a surprise, that’s a problem that probably goes beyond your individual performance. Talk to your manager, or escalate your concern to the next level to understand why you weren’t aware your performance was an issue -- and consider searching for a new job. Organizations where quota-carrying reps are caught off guard by notification of poor performance have deeper problems.
If you’re not consistently improving your skills leading to better performance, you’re missing out on the self improvement that's one of the main reasons to be a salesperson.
You always want to be learning from your leadership, others on your team, and industry experts. One of the secrets to great performance is to get passionate about what you do every day, and watch it translate into career success.
How to Respond to a Performance Improvement Plan
1. Decide if it’s worth the battle
When you’re put on a performance improvement plan, put emotions aside and decide whether you want to keep the job. If your manager won’t meet with you or you don’t have faith in your company it might be time to move on.
Review the plan, ensure it’s accurate, and check that it’s humanly possible to successfully complete. If your performance plan requires you to close 55 deals by Friday, it’s probably time to pack your bags.
Make sure you understand the plan before signing it, and ask for a copy for your records and reference throughout your evaluation period.
If you decide your job is worth fighting for, request weekly check-ins with your manager and regular assessment of how you’re tracking to meet plan goals.
2. Double your time commitment
Be willing to put in the time during your performance improvement plan. Tell your manager you’re going all in, and deliver on that promise. Now’s the time to decline those happy hour invitations and block off your weekends for a little extra prospecting.
You should also adopt good, visible work habits. Be the first one in the office and the last one to leave -- and don’t use that time to stalk your high school crush on Facebook. Be committed to doing the extra work, even if no one is watching.
Lastly, be at the top of every activity chart. Increase your dials, emails, and demos. Visible effort goes a long way toward showing your manager you’re willing to do the work.
A strong position on your activity charts can give your manager proof you’re serious about keeping your job and improving performance -- even if you don’t hit every goal in your plan.
3. Ask for help
Asking for help is a sign of strength, especially when you’re on a performance plan. Draw on your manager, lead reps, and mentors for advice, support, and guidance.
If you’re on a PIP, there’s a deficiency in something you’re doing. Have top reps review your calls. Share your performance plan with your mentor and ask for their perspective. Set up weekly check-ins with your manager. And ask desk mates to tell you if they notice something off during your calls.
4. Have a good attitude
Think of your performance improvement plan as a way to grow your career and develop new skills. Prove you can control your emotions, drop bad habits, and maintain a good attitude throughout.
Never underestimate the power of a positive perspective in pushing you across the finish line -- even if you don’t meet your numerical goal.
Many top producers have been on performance plans at some point in their careers. There's no shame in going on a plan. The shame is giving up.
5. Burn the Plan
I once mentored a sales leader who had to put an employee on a performance improvement plan. He asked me for guidance. I started by asking, “Can she do it?” His answer was an emphatic, “Absolutely.” From there, my advice was simple, “Tell her how much you believe in her. Light a fire.”
When he gave her the performance improvement plan, he asked her what I could do to help. She replied, "Remind me every day I can get off this, and keep me motivated." He agreed and told her that when she beat the plan they would head out to the parking lot and burn it.
Hey says, "When I told her that, I saw it click. Seeing her manager had faith in her really fired her up. Every morning, I sent her three things she was doing really well. I also stuck a print out that said 'Burn the Plan' on her computer monitor."
Not only did this woman burn her plan, but she got a promotion a few months later.
Maybe you don’t actually burn your performance plan, but keep that mentality throughout your evaluation period. Know you’re going to fight it, show up, and do the work. Do that, and you’ll be unstoppable.
Originally published Feb 7, 2018 7:30:00 AM, updated June 15 2021