Why You Need a Peak Performance Plan for Your Topgrading A-Players

By Jessica Wishart

peak performance a-players

Traditional business wisdom dictates that you need a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) for your peak performance a-players team members when they are not performing well. This is a practice as old as time, and like many traditional HR practices (think Annual Performance Reviews), it is time for a closer look at this. In fact, it may be time to get rid of the PIP all together. The ever-evolving workforce requires leaders and companies to continuously reinvent the processes and practices that have traditionally been used - what used to work may not work anymore.

Why You Don’t Need a PIP

In many cases, the PIP is just the last stop on the way out the door. If you are being honest about it, you’re just fulfilling the legal and HR requirements so you can fire the person and say, “Oh well, I did what I could.” This approach doesn’t do you any favors, and it doesn’t help your team members, either.

If you’ve worked hard to hire the right person (carefully crafting a Job Scorecard for the position, using a rigorous process like Topgrading for interviews, and evaluating culture and Core Values fit as well as job skills in the process), then you’ve already invested a lot in this person. Take a hard look at the systems and leadership you have in place:

  • Have you operationalized your company Core Values and Core Purpose so the desired behaviors and way of going about the work are clearly embedded in your culture?
  • Did you train them appropriately so they would have the right skills and knowledge to be successful?
  • Did you set clear expectations for success and communicate those in a way that ensures the person understood exactly what it would take to succeed?
  • Did you coach along the way, offering real-time feedback when their behavior or performance did not meet your expectations?
  • Did you help them identify gaps in their skills, behaviors or results and work with them to plan for improvement in those areas?
  • Did you ensure the results were visible and the consequences were applied fairly?

If you do all these things as the leader, and the person is still not successful, you don't need the PIP on the way out the door. You’ll be able to have a frank discussion with the person about how this role or this company is not a good fit - if you’ve worked closely to help them improve in key areas and have been clear about the results not meeting the agreed upon success criteria, this conversation isn’t a surprise at all. You don’t have to lay the groundwork for letting the person go.

Why You Do Need a PPP

That’s not to say there’s no role for performance improvement in today’s world of work. In fact, personal development is a critical element for your success as a leader. You just have to think about it differently. Don't waste time and energy on improving performance for someone with one foot out the door. You have to invest in a Peak Performance Plan for your TOP performers—your A-Players. If you hire well, your whole team should be A-Players. That’s right—you need a PPP for everyone. If everyone on your team isn’t actively working to improve their job skills and build leadership skills for the future, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

Many companies are reluctant to invest training dollars in their team and many leaders are hesitant to invest the time in helping each team member with a personalized plan for growth, but Patrick Thean, Rhythm Systems' CEO, makes a compelling case for why you can’t afford NOT to invest in growing your people. If you have leaders who are underperforming, they aren’t maximizing the performance of their team members which will impact your customers and cost you significantly in missed deadlines, rework and lost opportunities. A picture says a thousand words:

Money Slide


It boils down to sage advice from the classic Ken Blanchard book, The Secret: “The best leaders invest in the development of their people.” Your job as a leader is to grow your team. CEOs, start with your executive team—are they equipped for their current roles? Are there any skill or leadership gaps you need to work on now? Are they able to balance relationships and results? Can they lead, inspire and engage their teams? Are they willing to grow as leaders? Do they remove obstacles?

What about in the future? Imagine you have successfully executed on your strategies to grow your company over the next 3-5 years…Does your current executive team have what it takes to lead a company that’s double or triple the size? What might the future roles look like for your executive team, and how can you prepare your current team for those roles? Alternatively, what’s your plan B to move your current team members to different roles and hire new executives?

If you are not the CEO, you still need to think about the future of your team members. As your team or department grows, the people who report to you today are the leaders of tomorrow. What are you doing to ensure they are developing the skills—both technical job skills and leadership skills—to succeed as your company grows and their roles change?

Need some examples of what I mean by 'leadership skills?' Training Industry recently published a research report of the Top 10 Skills for leaders:

  1. Cultivating Emotional Intelligence, Self-Control, Empathy
  2. Building Trust
  3. Developing Customer Relationships
  4. Innovating by Understanding Customer Problems
  5. Solving Problems as a Team
  6. Understanding Stakeholder Needs
  7. Communicating Effectively
  8. Making Decisions
  9. Prioritizing Tasks
  10. Building Strong Working Relationships

These are all skills you can learn, practice, encourage, model and grow in your team. Put your plan in place, document your PPP and get started today, then work with each of your direct reports to identify one or two skills they are going to improve this year, too. You can't afford not to do it!

Take Our Team Accountability Assessment to see how your team stacks up.

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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images 


Jessica Wishart


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images