The day my previous boss told me that he was going to issue me with a Performance Improvement Plan, was the day it seemed like my world collapsed.
That may be you today. You’ve just been told that you’re
not performing at work;
not meeting standards…
And you’re crushed.
I really am.
This isn’t the way things were supposed to go.
When you graduated from school, you probably expected the transition to school to be relatively simple. After all, you’d grown up, gotten a certificate, and now, you were ready for the real-world.
It’s not your fault.
If you find yourself told that you’re performing poorly, the biggest tendency is for us to blame ourselves, look inwardly, and wonder what we did wrongly.
That can be helpful. But it may not always be.
In January 2021, when I was issued with my Performance Improvement Plan, I went into a spiral. I remembered that for so long, I had seen myself as pretty good at what I did.
Being told that I just wasn’t good enough at doing my job, was the worst blow I had.
2 years on, I finally realised one thing.
It was my fault,
but not entirely.
There are 2 reasons why you might be struggling at your job, and turning in worse than average performance.
It’s not a culture fit
Culture is difficult to understand, until you’re within the organisation.
And often it can be difficult to tell that you’re not a fit, until you’ve worked with the teams for about 6 months.
Having worked with different teams across the world, such as in Peru, Singapore, the U.K., and China, I quickly realised that there are 2 reasons why organisational cultures sometimes do not match with yours.
Firstly your personality may not be similar. When we first proposed a partnership with a possible collaborator, hoping to help her with her website, we saw that her cautiousness at each stage would make it difficult for us to work with her.
We were more used to working and building along the way, rather than having most of the answers figured out at the start.
That’s why you may find yourself struggling in your current job.
Your personalities are simply not the same.
Secondly your colleagues make up a big part of the organisational culture, and if there’s friction between yourself and another, it inserts an unconscious, but present wedge within the team.
In my first job, I had a disagreement with a team leader. I had suggested an idea for planning a programme to a colleague, which he ended up hearing of.
At that stage, it had been an idea.
But he picked it up, and broadcast it to the team, saying that I had to tell him first if there were any plans, and that there was no ‘I’ in team.
I felt shamed by that action, and slowly withdrew from the team.
This affected the team and later, my ability to perform within the team. I would go into the office, and speak less than 20 words a day.
If that’s you too, I’m sorry.
You find yourself awkwardly wondering where your place is in the team.
In the team, you probably only have one other friend.
You find yourself frozen out of lunches with other colleagues, with colleagues asking others, but not you.
You find yourself sitting silently in meetings, not sure of how much you want to contribute to a company that’s already written you off.
And there’s no easy way out.
If you’re facing this today, let me suggest how I got through it, and from my own mistakes, what I thought could have made it better.
If you’re told that you’re not performing, working harder at your current job is probably not going to fix things.
It’s going to be close to impossible to turn things around, from being a poor performer, to suddenly being a star performer.
Your poor performance has probably also spread within the company, and others now know about it too.
However confidential you want to keep it, your team probably knows about it. That’s why you even had that conversation with your manager. Someone told your manager about it.
When I was finally issued with the Performance Improvement Plan in March 2021, a job offer came along.
I hemmed and hawed.
It was a great job, under a known superboss, with increased responsibilities.
But somehow I decided not to take it.
I wanted to improve my skills first, before I went on. I thought it would be irresponsible of me to just leave, without learning and working on the feedback the organisation had given.
That was a mistake.
My head had been turned, and I no longer wanted in.
My advice would be to start applying for jobs and plan your exit, quickly.
Do the basic things, slowly
One day, my boss told me,
John, maybe it would help if you just followed the Job Description.
I had asked him how to outperform, during the call discussing the PIP.
It was ironic. Here they were telling me that my performance had problems, and I was asking about how to outperform?
Oh, the irony.
I had tried to run, before even learning to walk.
Often we can try too hard to overcompensate for our supposed inefficiencies at work, that we may end up doing too much. We are spread too thinly, and end up doing a little of everything, but not really moving the needle on anything.
Focusing on the basics, and going back to what the job has asked you to do would help.
Learn something new
I always remember the time between March and May 2021, when I was struggling horribly with my job.
I would turn up for work, and barely speak to anyone.
I would do the bare minimum, and not offer anything extra.
I would turn up at meetings, and not bother more.
But it was during this time that I learnt how to make videos, write, and be a content creator.
And it was in that process of learning, that I began to find joy and rediscover curiosity again.
Being a social worker had meant that much of what I’d use to read for fun – psychology, counselling, understanding the human mind; had now become work.
Yet work had become such a painful experience that learning more about that no longer fed me.
It no longer gave me joy.
Learning something new, such as content creation, even if it never paid off, gave me something else to look forward to.
You can build something too – outside of your work, that gives you a renewed sense of hope, and of something to look forward to.
When I look back to those times
Whenever I look back at the times when I underperformed at work, they were no doubt very painful times, but they were also times when I learnt the most about myself.
You too, have the chance to grow from this experience.
Don’t scratch it off and write it off as something to forget.
And this isn’t the cliche,
You grow from your mistakes.
Rather, the more nuanced argument is that your mistakes and underperformance can grow you, if you allow it to.
Rather than seeing how to prove those naysayers wrong (which is a very painful process), it might work better for you to not prove anything.
Simply realise that at the end of the day, you aren’t here to prove a point. You’re not working hard because you’re trying to get people to see that you were great after all. Or that they were wrong to give you a performance improvement plan.
Rather, you’re working because you want to, and not because you need to.