What to Do If You’re Put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) 

Ryan Walsh, CEO and Founder
Ryan Walsh, CEO and FounderNov 22, 2023

You can feel it coming, or maybe it already happened — getting put on a performance improvement plan. Don’t panic, and don’t do anything rash. Obviously, being put on a performance improvement plan (PIP) isn’t ideal. But what you do next can significantly impact your career journey — and that’s what really matters.

These are the recommended steps you should take if you “get pipped” that can help you navigate the situation in a way that benefits your sales career.

Read the PIP (After Taking a Deep Breath)

Even if you are expecting it, getting put on a performance improvement plan can be a bit of a shock. The legitimate fear of losing your job can and will make your anxiety go up. And the rush of adrenaline that comes with it can make it hard to focus and make good decisions.

Take a deep breath. Then read the PIP. 

Understand the Reasons for the PIP

Read it carefully. Listen to your manager, and make sure you understand the specific reasons they give for putting you on the PIP. A PIP that’s legitimately intended to improve performance should be based on objectives that were already in place. If those reasons aren’t included in the written documentation, ask for them to be added.

(If there is no written documentation, insist that there should be.)

Understand the Expectations for the PIP

Take another deep breath. 

Read over the PIP again, listen to your manager, and make sure you understand the specific actions you need to take or results you need to achieve to get off the PIP back in good standing. Ask questions and confirm the expected outcomes and the next steps once they’re achieved. 

For both activity- and results-based goals, ensure you know how they’ll be tracked and measured. Make sure the measures are objective. Completion or success shouldn’t be a judgment call by your manager or anyone else.

And if any expected actions, results, or next steps are not documented in writing within the PIP, insist that they are. 

Understand Your Manager’s Responsibility

It’s unrealistic to expect sales performance to improve without any help from management. Your manager should also have responsibilities that are part of a performance improvement plan. (This can be a good indication of the legitimacy of the “performance improvement” aspect or if the process is just a pretense for firing you.)

Things like meeting with you regularly, specific coaching related to areas needing improvement, and providing guidance and feedback related to your performance should all be documented within the PIP. (Not to mention, they should be part of a sales manager’s everyday responsibilities.)

Ask for clarification about anything you don’t understand, as well as confirmation for how the manager’s responsibilities will be measured. 

Should You Sign the PIP?

You will be asked to sign something related to the performance improvement plan. But what you’re signing is critical here.

Read the text around the signature line closely. Ask your manager (and/or the HR rep) if signing the PIP is only your acknowledgement of receiving it. 

There are different opinions about signing anything that suggests you implicitly or explicitly agree with stated poor performance. The best advice is to think about it like signing any other contract: is what you’re agreeing to reasonable, and is signing in your best interest? 

Don’t Give Up. Not All PIPs are Bad.

Have PIPs been misused? Absolutely. But are all PIPs bad? Definitely not. So don’t just give up.

A lot of great employees and sellers — even current leaders and top performers — have found themselves on a performance improvement plan. Sometimes people just need a bit of upskilling or a push to succeed at some point in their careers. 

Put in some serious effort. Be honest with yourself about the areas you can improve.

Where Do You Need Help?

Ask yourself why your performance so far has fallen short. Is it a knowledge issue? A skill issue?  An effort issue? Or some combination? Can you envision the specific changes that you can make that will lead to improved performance? If so can you break those down into daily and weekly activity metrics that you believe will lead to success? 

Who Can Help You?

Talk to sellers who have had success and learn from them. If you can go through this process and you believe that you see a path to success, write it down and get feedback on it from your manager — and maybe also your peers. See if you can not only get off the PIP, but turn it into a catalyst to move up the leaderboard.

What’s Possible Short-term vs. Long-term?

Keep in mind that depending on your role, some things may be difficult to change in the short-term. 

For example, an SDR who only booked 10 meetings in a month on a goal of 20 is much different than an enterprise AE who has only closed $50K on a goal of $250K. An SDR can immediately increase their activity and they will have a reasonable hope of booking more meetings. But for the enterprise AE, success next quarter may be largely driven by the state of the pipeline today. 

If you’re selling something with a long sales cycle, you likely won’t be able to dramatically increase closed deals in a short timeframe – and your efforts to do so may actually make it harder to close the pipeline that you do have. Desperation is a bad position from which to negotiate.

Plan for What’s Next

Getting put on a performance improvement plan isn’t a reason to give up. But the next few weeks or months will be tough. And there’s a fair chance that the final outcome of the PIP will be termination. You need to consider every eventuality and the actions you need to take today.

Review Your Finances

You’ll want to go over your personal finances and know what to expect if you do lose your job. How long can you be without a paycheck? What discretionary spending can you cut back on or do without for a while? It’s not fun to think about, but it can make a big difference. Can you start spending less immediately? If so, you may be thankful that you did — regardless of the outcome of the PIP.

Update Your Resume

If you do end up losing your job, you’ll want to be prepared to find a new one. Go ahead and update your resume, even if you’d prefer to beat the PIP and stay with your current org. Document the wins you’ve had — it’ll be a lot harder if you’re let go and lose access to your accounts. 

You may or may not start looking for your next role yet, but getting everything up-to-date before possibly getting let go will let you start your search immediately. And if you do get terminated, make sure to leave a new rating on RepVue to extend your access to the platform.

Always Be Professional

No seller wants to be told they need to improve their performance. But getting pipped isn’t a reason to be unprofessional. 

One PIP is not the end of your sales career, so don’t burn any bridges and don’t overreact in the moment. (That’s what all the deep breaths are for.) Be cool and collected. Stay professional. Know the difference between what you can control and what you can’t.

It’s definitely not the end of your sales career.

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