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PIPs are disingenuous. If you get put on one, find a new job as fast as possible, HR exec says.

Ashley Couto   

PIPs are disingenuous. If you get put on one, find a new job as fast as possible, HR exec says.
  • Nolan Church was the former head of talent at DoorDash and ex-chief people officer at Carta.
  • He said companies use PIPs to protect themselves and avoid blindsiding employees with firings.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Nolan Church, a former recruiter at Google and DoorDash and ex-chief people officer at Carta, about his experience of putting people on PIPs. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I've spent my career in recruitment. From May 2012 to early 2015, I worked as a recruiter for Google Access. Then, I became the head of recruiting at DoorDash and later the chief people officer at Carta, a pre-IPO equity management company for startups.

My first experience with PIPs was at DoorDash

DoorDash was the first place I encountered performance improvement plans or PIPs. They're a way of giving a low performer a chance to correct a performance problem before termination.

When I joined as the head of talent in March 2015, I was the company's 50th employee. This was a key leadership role for HR and recruiting. We were setting a company precedent for how we wanted to manage our employees.

As we started encountering low performers, we needed to figure out how to manage them. So we talked to former or current heads of HR at other companies to understand how they thought about performance management.

They said there were two ways that companies thought about PIPs — do them or don't. The HR leaders said we could either make it so everyone went on a PIP before being terminated or put no one on a PIP and give increasing feedback to lower performers.

We went the PIP route at DoorDash. In the early days, we decided that the sales team would be the only team with a formal PIP process because they were the department with the clearest metrics. It's You're either hitting your quota or you're not. Sales metrics are very black and white.

We could be very clear with somebody and say, "If you don't hit quota, this is going to be your last month of employment."

During my tenure, everybody I saw being put on a PIP got terminated either during the PIP or shortly after. My personal take is that once you get to the point of putting somebody on a PIP, the decision to terminate has already been made.

I've never seen someone survive a PIP

When I moved to Carta in 2018 as the chief people officer, we had a lot of discussions there about whether we wanted to put people on PIPs. Early on, I instituted a policy that required managers to put employees on a PIP before terminating. We did this to ensure managers delivered feedback and employees weren't surprised they were being let go.

However, as we put people on PIPs, we found them to be disingenuous and ultimately eliminated them. Instead, we terminated employees with a generous severance package. To be candid, I've never seen somebody survive a PIP.

As a company, you want to consider why you're putting someone on a PIP. Are you doing it to make the employee successful? Or to cover your ass?

PIPs are used by companies to cover their ass almost every single time because a team doesn't have enough data about performance, and managers don't do a great job of providing feedback.

Usually, companies put someone on a PIP because they're worried that the employee will be surprised by their termination without one and could take legal action. The PIP provides legal cover.

If you get put on a PIP, make the acronym stand for Paid Interview Period

If you're an employee on a PIP, you need to view it not as a "Performance Improvement Plan" but as a "Paid Interview Period" because your employment is coming to an end at that company, either very shortly at the end of the PIP or usually soon thereafter.

You should assume it's not worked out at that company and put the majority of your efforts into trying to find a new job as fast as possible. Even if you survive the PIP, you have to think about "what happens to me now?"

I have a very large community of HR leaders in my circle. I've never heard of somebody who went on a PIP and became a top performer at that company.

So even if you survive, you've been scarlet-lettered at that company. The likelihood of you getting a raise or promotion after a PIP is insanely low.

The best option for you is to find a different company where you can be successful and start with a clean slate.