Wait Until You’re on a PIP to Turn Things Around

This category is going to fall under the overall need to establish urgency. It’s also going to be filed under how to not take things too personally.

Prior to formally being put on a performance improvement plan (PIP), I got two emails that were formal “letters of concern.” The meat of the areas of concern were legitimate, but I focused on the stuff that wasn’t legitimate and took it personally.

I read several people’s perspectives of PIPs and what to do about them on Reddit. The advice ranged from just fold and spend the rest of the PIP person job hunting, to hunker down and work hard. The two schools of thought were: one, this is the last step before you’re fired, or two, a PIP is an honest attempt by your employer to get your attention.

The attainment amount in the PIP would indicate if it was the last step before termination or if it was an honest attempt at a turnaround. The number in my PIP was so high that it was unlikely I was going to attain it, but I still worked hard at trying to hit it.

The problem with being on a PIP is that you’re in a no-win situation, unless there’s a clear explanation about when the PIP is over. Mine didn’t have that. So in the unlikely event that I hit the number in the plan, there was no indication that I would’ve been taken off the plan. So in addition to the grind of carrying a monthly quota, I would also have had the possibility of termination hanging over my head.

In my case, the two problems with waiting to be on a PIP to turn things around were having an insurmountable attainment number and indefinitely being one bad month away from getting fired.

So this is stating the obvious, but you want to avoid being put on a PIP. The main thing I would’ve done differently is project that I was taking it seriously. There are a few ways I think I could’ve done this:

  1. More strategic account planning – At a high level this is just having a plan for what you want to achieve with each account.
  2. Get my managers involved – It didn’t seem like my managers were truly vested in my success. From a quota attainment standpoint, they wanted to succeed. But at the end I don’t think they had a good grasp of what I was dealing with.
  3. Go onsite more – The travel approval process was inconsistent, but I could’ve been more persistent in planning onsite visits.

Fail to establish an internal network

I was hired at the company while everyone was still 100% remote due to the pandemic. Things were starting to reopen, and I had met some of my teammates for offsite team lunches. That spring, the office was fully reopened but we still weren’t required to come

Working remotely was convenient. No commute, loser personal hygiene requirements. But it did make it difficult to learn from other people.

Coming from a previous job where I worked independently, I didn’t seek other people out that much. I viewed sales as a largely autonomous job, and I think it can be. But when you’re struggling to hit your numbers you have to get some external input. If nothing else, it shows you’re making an effort to improve.

It also improves your sense of normalcy. Most of the time when I asked people questions about deals, renewals, policies, I was met with something like “yea, that can be a little confusing.” It made me realize that the thing I was trying to figure out was something other people worked on figuring out too.

It can give you a better sense of what’s happening at a high level at the company.

When you have specific, urgent questions, you have a group of people you can go to. Sometimes I felt like I was just taking a shotgun approach to asking urgent questions when I ran into a problem.

Know that you have something to offer too. Even though you’d assume more of a mentee role in the first year or so, there’s probably something you can offer a colleague. It could be something as simple as an anecdote about a deal. Or the value of a product you sold, a deck you used. It doesn’t have to be an authoritative lesson. You never know what the other person will learn from the information you shared.

What I would’ve done differently:

  • Develop strong connections to fewer people: This would help with accountability. You’re also developing a history with the person, so they can reference previous conversations. Ideally this allows both of you to be more efficient with your time.
  • Find people who will be honest: You don’t want people who are too doomsdayish. You also don’t want people who are going to rush through the conversation with positive comments. Coming out of the conversation feeling like you learned something is good.
  • Have deal review calls: During these calls, you share your plan for closing the deal with the other person. This allows you to complete important tasks in closing a deal:
    • Create a plan – In order to share the plan for closing the deal, you have to have a plan
    • Get feedback – There’s probably something you didn’t think of that could improve your chances of closing a deal
    • Prepare for visibility – As the deal moves closer to close, you’ll have more eyes on the deal. Getting feedback helps you prepare for the questions that’ll come with that visibility.
  • Commit to putting the new ideas into action: The work is not meeting with someone. That’s the first step. I think I made the mistake of thinking, okay I’ve met with these people. But my attention wasn’t fully there, and I usually didn’t commit to implementing the ideas that I got during those meetings.