Time to Ditch Performance Improvement Plans

Time to Ditch Performance Improvement Plans

Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) can be daunting. Explore how focusing on strengths and personalised development boosts motivation and enhances performance management.

The Dreaded PIP 

Do the words “performance improvement plan” send shivers down your spine? You’re not alone! 

What is a PIP? 

If you’ve never encountered a performance improvement plan (PIP), it is a tool that many organisations use when an employee is underperforming. It outlines performance issues and sets goals. For example, if an employee is missing sales targets, a PIP might include goals like seeking manager support, focusing on leads, and regularly sharing to-do lists. If targets aren’t met within 90 days, disciplinary action or termination may follow. 

Merits and drawbacks of PIPs 

Though PIPs do have their merits, such as their “report card” structure being clear and allowing employees to plainly see what they should be developing, more of a focus on what people can do now and what they gain energy from may be a better approach to performance management. This is because anecdotally, PIPs are sometimes seen as antiquated or cruel – indeed, some suggest that a PIP is just a step before letting an employee go anyway, regardless of whether they achieve their goals or not. Clearly, this is not an ideal scenario, and one that can cause distress for the employee in question if not handled correctly. 

The Brain's Response to a Strengths-Based Approach 

Neuroscience shows that focusing on strengths activates the brain's reward system, releasing dopamine and other positive neurotransmitters. This enhances motivation, engagement, and learning capacity. In contrast, focusing on weaknesses triggers the brain's stress response, which can reduce cognitive function and overall performance. Thus, a strengths-based approach is more effective as it fosters a positive and productive work environment. 

What this Means in Everyday Terms 

By primarily focussing on a person’s strengths, we spend time exploring what individuals can do (and enjoy doing) currently, and the ways that they can enhance their performance and wellbeing for the future. Using our BeTalent Strengths questionnaire as an example, we can understand what types of tasks people might gain energy from working on day-to-day. Does delivering workshops excite them, or would they prefer to have their head down in the detail? Are they more confident taking risks for the benefit of the business or would they prefer to pay attention to the needs of their team, as that is what energises them?   

Aligning Tasks with Strengths 

If we understand the types of tasks that people enjoy doing, then where there is the opportunity, we can try to get them involved in those types of tasks (role permitting). Of course, that is not to say that just because we don’t gain energy from a task, we get to avoid it completely. We can still be good at something (for the role requirements or personal development) but not gain energy from it. For example, we would not want to share a document with clients that contains spelling mistakes, so we would of course spend time reviewing it, but it is possible that the person doing this proofing could find the task to be draining if they had to engage in proofing all day. They are motivated to do it for the sake of the client, but they do not gain energy from it. Therin lies the difference. So, taking time to understand what Strengths are, the environments that people excel in or may find challenging, or the types of Strengths that can be energising or frustrating to work with can be of value.   

Regular Conversations Over Formal PIPs 

Rather than creating a formal PIP, we suggest that performance could be managed by having regular 121 conversations that implement the findings from questionnaires such as BeTalent Strengths to inform the conversation and development actions. This would hopefully lead to an improvement in performance. After all, when people are enabled to play to their strengths, they become more motivated and engaged, and who wouldn’t want that? 


When people focus on their strengths, they become more motivated and engaged, enhancing overall performance. Who wouldn’t want that? 

If you’re curious about how a strengths-based approach can transform your organisation’s performance management, you can download a sample report today. 

We offer accreditations in all of our BeTalent tools so you can learn to use the tool yourself or bring in one of our business psychologists to help your talent reach their full potential. 

First Published: 30th May 2024

Last Updated: 31st May 2024

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Karen Roy
Senior Vice President of Clinical Marketing : Phlexglobal

Excellent podcast - Burnout is so often something that is ignored until it is too late. Thank you!

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