Surviving Performance Improvement Plans

4 min readJan 26, 2016

The story of being sent to hell and surviving to tell the tale

2016 is slated to be a horrid year. Recession, stocks tumbling, oil prices plummeting, defaults on loans. In times like these, corporations will do their best to stay profitable and continue to attract investor dollars with promises of dividend and returns. Times like these corporations use euphemisms to like restructuring to remove employees while still fulfilling regulatory requirements and maintain their cash positions.

I have only been employed for close to 3 years, however I have been fired once and put on performance improvement plans twice. This article is really to share a story of how to turn things around and hopefully prevent such a catastrophe from happening in the first place.

Before I being, I just want to state, I learnt a lot from my previous employer and current employer, however some times there are things out of your control and it’s best to take action.

Let’s start with failure first (chronologically logical as well)

I joined an oil and gas company during the heyday where oil peaked at above USD100 a barrel. Frankly, when I was interviewed I should have seen all the red flags that the job may not have been suitable for a fresh guy straight out of school:

  1. 6th person to fulfill the role in a span of 2 years
  2. Job title was for a senior role with minimum 5 years experience (I was fresh out of college. I’m glad they took a chance on me, but I was in way over my head)
  3. The bosses really did not understand the area of work (I was recruited to look after PCB sourcing. If you are in sourcing and you’re familiar with part number 1 PCB could be made up of 1000 part numbers. For the folks 1 PCB = 1 part number. Frankly, it’s a huge disconnect in what needs to be done and the expectations set)

The thing that irked me somewhat was the promise of proper training and guidance to help to fulfill the responsibilities of the role. I think my bosses did give me a direction but I may have been too junior to understand how to execute the vision independently at the time. So after 3 months, I was put on performance improvement plan.

In terms of the plan, there were some vague goals that were laid out (which I delivered on) however I was still let go as the bosses felt I was a poor fit for the role and let me go. There did give me a month’s compensation which was decent.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Goals need to be concrete and measurable
  2. Talk to HR
  3. Constant communication and get your boss’ feedback

Fast forward two years. I was put on performance improvement plan once again.

Taking the lessons learnt from the previous employer, I had a good sit down with my manager to ensure that I would not commit the same mistakes again.

The first thing I did was to ask her to explain the process of the performance improvement plan in the company. She did and it seemed quite far from what was described in the intranet documentation. So I challenged her on that.

The second thing I requested was a clear outline of the plan. Anything that could not be measured I requested for clear measurable values with a fixed deadline (trust me, the shorter the plan the better, unless you do not really know what you are doing). Very importantly, ensure the right person who understands what you are doing is assessing you. The employer follows a matrix management style, the manager giving me the performance improvement plan does not know the first thing about Healthcare or SAP. So that was a huge point I challenged her with.

She wanted monthly meetings. Most plans last 3 months (maximum 6 months). No one really remembers what happens yesterday much less 30 days ago. So I set up weekly checkpoints to ensure that there was constant feedback to ensure I was on the right track.

The thing that I found most strange was that the manager did not want me to talk to HR. Of course I went to speak to HR to confirm the process, the plan and what I should look out for. HR can be your friend. However they rarely are. Their job is to look out for the company’s interest. That being said, you should definitely consult with them to ensure that you are fulfilling the business needs of the company and not jump through humps of the manager putting you on the plan in the first place. They could be misinformed or have a political vendetta against you.

So after 3 months I successfully passed the second performance improvement plan I was put on.

There were still some lessons learnt:

  1. Research and understand your company processes properly
  2. Do not be afraid of upsetting the manager as long as you are not rude
  3. Document everything (have statistics ready to prove what you have achieved and done from the time the plan started and have weekly reports

Prevention is better than cure. A lot of the lessons learnt are applicable to ensure you do not get placed on a plan in the first place.

  1. Constant communication (even if you manager ignores you, spam them. Leave that email trail for documentation)
  2. Goals need to be clear and measurable with deadlines
  3. Know your company

My friends always think I am unemployable. Frankly I think if you are fighting hard to drive company vision while management is driving selfish endeavors, you are bound to step on toes.

If all else fails just remember this, Bruce Henderson, founder of Boston consulting group was fired 6 times before he ventured on his own to set up the consulting firm. Sometimes, you may see something others may not.

For those of you who stumbled upon this page, thanks for making it so far and if you are being slapped with a performance improvement plan, drop me a tweet or comment, would love to help :)




If you are enjoy a laugh at the expense of our corporate overlords, I hope my sense of humour is the cause