Posts Tagged ‘performance improvement plans’

The Problem with Performance Improvement Plans

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Changing habits and behaviors is tough enough on its own, but when you throw in the hurdles that others provide, it can be a huge challenge.

A big part of my coaching within the business world is helping individuals change or fine-tune various behaviors. Some of these behaviors are seen as good, and the objective is to enhance them. Others are seen as problems, and my job is to either end them or change them enough to where they are no longer a problem. These are part of the dreaded “performance improvement plan.”

I look at behaviors as simply a program running inside the person’s brain, much like a computer program runs. Behaviors are our software.

With this in mind, my objective is to either delete and replace the program, or update it. Understand that eliminating a behavior is no guarantee that it will be replaced with better behavior. Simply stopping someone from doing something does not mean they’re going to do what you want them to. That’s why replacing the program with another is critical to actually making a change.

But guess what is often the biggest hurdle to changing someone’s workplace behavior? Not the individual that I’m working with, but it’s the perceptions of those around him or her. Let me give you a quick example.

“Ronnie” had a role in administration of a small company. Generally, she did her job fairly well, but she had one big weakness – her ability to work with others. Hardly a week would go by without at least one major blow up with a co-worker. And it had gotten to the point where something had to be done.

I worked with Ronnie to help her understand the issue, what was expected of her, what kind of behavior was and wasn’t acceptable, and then gave her a plan to change some of her “automatic” behaviors – the programs that kicked in at inappropriate times, places and ways. Ronnie took responsibility for the change, and working with the program that I developed for her, she made significant changes.

But as long as others around Ronnie saw her as she was in the past, the big change was not going to happen. I had to do as much to change her co-worker’s perceptions as I did directly with Ronnie.

For weeks, even though Ronnie was behaving in a totally acceptable way, every time anyone had a disagreement, she would get the blame for it. It even went so far as Ronnie being blamed for something that happened on a day where she wasn’t present. That’s the negative impact that labels and reputations can have on a person.

Over a period of a couple of months I had to implement a very deliberate plan to change people’s perceptions of Ronnie. As it turned out, Ronnie had made the changes well before others had.

This is the very reason that so many performance improvement plans that employees are put on do not work. There are always two sides to a story, and this applies to people as well. A person changing his or her behavior alone may not make the difference without those around him or her seeing these changes.

They say perception is reality. Well, it is as long as perception is in alignment with the truth, and that sometimes needs a plan to make that alignment occur.

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