February 2011 Archives

Chicago Employment: Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs)

February 15, 2011

Most dedicated executives view themselves as cooperative and hard-working. Sometimes, an employee will carry out his employment duties for years before receiving any notice to the contrary. Many employers will not give any indication that an employee's career is in jeopardy. Then, suddenly the employee is summoned to a meeting and presented with a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"). Often times, this PIP will be vaguely worded or mischaracterize the employee's past performance, which places the employee at a disadvantage from the outset. It can be extremely stressful to have your performance questioned and your efforts deeply scrutinized in this way. However, there are effective ways to address misrepresented or mischaraterized items in a PIP.

Usually, a PIP will identify areas purportedly in need of improvement. A standard PIP will also provide a specified time period and expectations for improving in those areas. When the time period expires, the employee's improvement, or lack thereof, is reviewed. If the employee's performance is not viewed as "improved" in the eyes of the employer, employment may be terminated. Due to the fact that a failed PIP can result in termination, it is a serious matter, and should be handled with professional care and judgment.

In coaching clients through a PIP, we often see the employer exaggerate issues that were never previously addressed or identify one or two isolated incidents. We help our clients identify the hot button issues and create a plan is to deal with the concerns. A successfully navigated PIP can help manage employment expectations and highlight your achievements. Clear guidance and an identified process can help prolong employment and even create a more positive working environment.

When guiding clients through a PIP, we remind them to maintain a positive and hopeful outlook because there are strategies to deal with every type of employer.

Women Executives: Underpaid or Low Bidders?

February 8, 2011

I was recently directed to an article about a gender discrimination suit filed by an HR executive at Toshiba. The plaintiff, Elaine Cyphers, alleges that she was one of many women at Toshiba who endured "pervasive discrimination." As a basis for her complaint, she contends that she was hired at a salary 30% lower than similarly qualified men.

The article reminded me of a great post by a respected business advisor/blogger, Carol Roth, called At the Business Table, Where are the Ladies? The post also references Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg's compelling talk at TED Women on why we have too few women leaders. Both Roth and Sandberg offer some valuable insight about what women need to do to increase their presence in the board room. And, the comments to Roth's post show that there are a lot of perspectives on this issue. But, Sandberg's speech and the comments to Roth's post emphasized how many professional women are citing a female propensity not to ask for more as the problem. I don't necessary disagree that there are many women out there who don't ask for what they want, bit I am also not so naive to believe that asking trumps bias.

It is not surprisng that Toshiba (or any other multinational corporations) might be discriminating against women and/or violating the Equal Pay Act. What is surprising is that there seems to be a growing divide between professional women. Women working for great companies that value diversity assume that women who are underpaid have settled for too little. And women who are paid less than their male counterparts assume that such discrimination is an inherent business factor. The resulting question: Is unequal pay the result of discrimination or a failure to negotiate?

I personally think that it is not one or the other. Businesses are made up of people. And people have biases, prejudices, stereotypes. If the opening offer for a woman is lower than that given to a man with the same or less experience, it's not because of her negotiation skills.

I have known and worked for some amazing female negotiators. I have also seens some of those women offer male candidates a higher salary than female employees. The same women have stood up and lectured about how we all should be helping each other. The fact is we're all human. And, as such, we all get in our own way sometimes. The implication in Roth's post is that women shouldn't discriminate either. We shouldn't segregate ourselves, but rather share wisdom and work to elevate everyone we respect and admire.