Performance Improvement Plans: Why I Hate Them

Performance Improvement Plans

There are two sides to everything: Yin and Yang; Good and Evil; Hot and Cold; Black and White. For Sales Management, its two sides are the fun and not so fun parts of managing a team. While managing teams has its benefits, team management also includes making tough decisions. You might think about various practices to implement, such as performance improvement plans.

What are you supposed to do if a team member does not live up to the required standards? Should you fire them? Should you ignore under-performers? I think the answer to both of these questions is pretty straight forward: support your team, both in good times and in bad times and do what is best for THEM.

My tip: avoid using performance improvement plans (PIPs) whenever possible.

Performance Improvement Plans – Why I Hate Them

In my 20 plus years managing Inside Sales and SDR teams, I have had to put only a handful of people on what is known in the industry as a PIP, a Performance Improvement Plan. In my opinion, PIPs don’t live up to their name; they are not about employee performance improvement or an action plan to meet employee needs. In actuality, a PIP is a process document used to prove that the Manager has tried to help the employee over a period of 30-90 days. Simply put, it is a paper trail that is used to protect the company from legal action.

I have read many blogs that call PIPs evil. They suck the humanity out of the Sales Manager, who isn’t really trying to help an employee improve. But it also affects the employee, who is humiliated throughout the process. They also impact the rest of the team by bringing down morale and taking everyone’s focus away from what is important. Personally, I have never seen performance improvement plans work. This is because PIPs are not about helping an employee recover from poor performance. Instead, they are a clear indication that they are about to be terminated.

More Harm Than Good

To be clear, I understand that PIPs provide company protection from legal actions. I know that some employees are not going to work out, no matter how great the interview process or background checks. Still, I generally disapprove of PIPs for several reasons:

  1. They are humiliating. No matter how hard one tries to keep the PIP process confidential, most people on the team know when someone is on a PIP.
  2. PIPs lower morale. Team members who are not on a PIP have their own opinions about the individual on a PIP. If they like the individual, Management is the bad guy. Sometimes, even if they dislike the person, they may sympathize with them because they have to go through the PIP process. Again, Management is the bad guy. Low trust and respect between Sales management and employees is directly proportional to a lack of motivation and work performance.
  3. PIPs require Managers to spend time focused on the documentation/paper trail process which means they spend less time focusing on managing the team to meet expected results. While the PIP event is in play, the “good” team members are typically left to fend for themselves because the manager is heads down focused on the poor performer for the next 30-90-days.

How to Avoid Performance Improvement Plans

I have used two distinct methods for avoiding PIPs. The first one is a GOSPA Plan. The second one is a recruiter.

GOSPA Planning

Employees need to have the opportunity to improve performance and develop their own success plans (see my blog on GOSPA Planning — Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Plans, and Activities). They should understand the metrics and recognize the consequences for not meeting the metrics. This way, PIPs can be avoided.

For example, say a SDR has the following metrics to meet each month:

  • Make a minimum of 800 dials/month
  • Have 20 Key Conversations with decision makers
  • Build a Teleprospecting lead pipeline of a minimum of 24 potential leads
  • Generate 8 qualified leads to pass to Sales (SQLs)
  • Receive sales approval on at least 6 of these SQLs
  • Achieve set pipeline quotas for their approved SQLs

Now say the SDR has to build a quarterly GOSPA Plan, which outlines how they will achieve the above metrics. The manager’s job is to review the GOSPA plan, ensure that it is a viable plan, and review with the employee what will happen if they dont meet the metrics each week/month/quarter. Working with the Rep, the manager should discuss the consequences for low performance.

Assume that the Rep under-performs on his metrics by 20% for a period of 4 weeks. The manager should take specific disciplinary actions to help the employee improve. This could be as sitting in on calls or providing coaching on the specific issues. If employee development doesn’t happen within a 90-day period, termination may be the next step. Performance management should hold all employees to this standard. This way, everyone is aware of the consequences for not meeting the Goals outlined in their individual GOSPAs. The human resources formality of termination documentation is an offshoot of this process.

You don’t need Performance Improvement Plans.

Sales management can hold regular checks about individual performance reviews and achievements to-date against the plan. Then, everyone will know where they are and be constantly learning from prior weeks. This information is documented as a standard course of managing team members and increasing employee engagement. When a GOSPA is in place, the manager’s goal is to quickly identify issues and work to help an employee improve if they are falling behind their stated metrics. Similarly, the employee should be going to their manager if they are having problems; they developed the plan, and thus know what they are accomplishing or not. In essence, it is their plan and they are responsible for working to the plan as they outlined in their GOSPA.

Recruiter to the Rescue

Many years ago, I was asked to turn around a call center that was experiencing performance issues. This team of eight was struggling to meet the demands of the job. I quickly implemented my Best Practices and was able to get the team moving in the right direction. It took about 6 weeks. Once the team understood what they needed to do and had additional training, they began to generate quality SQLs for the sales team.

Unfortunately, one of the team members was having a difficult time picking up the phone to make calls. The bad news for him was that a SDR’s job is to make phone calls, which he hated doing (Add The Best Interview Questions Resource Here). While he was very confident about the technology and solution offerings, he just wouldn’t make his calls. He was the most technical person on the team, and I could see that he would make a great customer service rep for some other company. He was a good person and in the right role he would do well. I didn’t want to make him feel worse by putting him on a PIP.

I asked his manager if he knew of any recruiters who might have customer service positions available. The manager got back to me within a few days with a few recruiter names. We made some calls and asked them to anonymously recruit our underperforming BDR out of our company.

The Result

Within two weeks, our lack-luster team member was in my office. He handed me his letter of resignation, stating, “This is a much better job for me. I like talking to customers; I just don’t like initiating phone calls”.

By utilizing a recruiter to “remove” this person out of this “wrong-for-him” job, I saved our company time and money. While also maintaining morale, this was the most compassionate way to manage this situation. The team member will never know that his manager and I helped to get him the job that fit his needs and skills better. We did it without humiliating him or impacting team morale.


PIPs are never about performance improvement. If you must put someone on a PIP, do so as a last resort. My best advice is to manage performance every week based on a plan like GOSPA. Team members have the opportunity to tell you “how” they will manage themselves to achieve their stated objectives. After establishing GOSPA, determine what steps you will take if members don’t meet KPI’s and other metrics as outlined in the employees’ GOSPA.

If the employee does not match the role (you made a hiring mistake), use recruiters to move people out of mismatched positions into more suitable positions at a different company. Use a PIP only when it is clear that the team member isn’t really interested in working through continuous improvement exercises aimed to boost their performance.. Whatever method you use to help your employees, make sure you add compassion to the mix. Your compassion will help you and your team in the long run. In the end, you want a “win-win” experience.

Download the free GOSPA Planning tool here.

Read the book The Radical Pipeline Strategy: How to Grow Pipeline and Revenue by Optimizing Sales Development. This book outlines tested best practices and implementation strategies that I developed while rebooting and building 65 SDR and Inside Sales organizations.

Find out more about SOMAmetrics’ Intelligent Prospecting Platform and get free resources on our website at

GOSPA Planning: Manage Your SDR Team Their Way

GOSPA Planning by SOMAmetrics

Managers, how often have you heard SDRs or Sales Development Reps say, “I want a new territory!” Past employers and clients have often appointed my skills to transform Inside Sales and SDR teams that are underperforming. To date, I have completed successful SDR transformations at over 65 companies. Every situation displayed similar symptoms: sales development teams have a given set of objectives, and specifics on how to meet said objectives. Unfortunately, most of the team members had devoted no time towards how they would achieve the company’s stated objectives. In each of the situations, I saw poor morale and results. Ultimately, the problem was a lack of effective sales intelligence and management. The solution is GOSPA planning.

Director of Inside Sales

Here is a real example of my experience with this issue. As a Director of Inside Sales for a $100M Educational Software company, I needed to generate incremental revenue for the Inside Sales team. During the second week of my employment, a team member (Ms. B) had already sent in a request to leave her current territory due to lack of success in the region. Ms. B was a hardworking and competitive individual who burned out from her inability to fulfill her quota. She held her “bad” territory accountable for her lack of success.

When I examined the plan for Ms. B’s territory (which should have mapped out each district and key personnel) alongside a strategy on how to penetrate each territory, she claimed to have none. Thus, I collaborated with Ms. B to create a plan that would allow her to penetrate her existing territory. This was the end of the year and she had only two months to meet her objectives. I reassured her that if there was no growth within this timeframe, I would transfer her to a “better” territory.

GOSPA Methodology

I presented Ms. B with the GOSPA (Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Plans, and Activities) planning methodology (GOSPA Planning Resource Here), and requested that she think of some basic details about her territory, such as the total number of districts; key personnel (Directors of Curriculum and Superintendents); etc.

After gathering such information, I guided her through the GOSPA methodology. I stressed the importance of keeping this plan short and simple to allow her to modify on a daily basis. Research shows that when teams review and update their GOSPA regularly, they are more successful.

We began by mapping out the strategy that would allow her to meet 110% of her quota, keeping her desired commission in mind. Each week, we would regroup and assess her placement according to her GOSPA plan. Over ‌four weeks, she began to recognize that her target objective of 110% of the plan was too high. Ms. B modified her plan to an objective of 105% of quota. By the end of the two-month period, she reached her quota of 105%, while remaining in the same territory. She also was in that year’s “President’s Club” for over-achievement of her quota.

GOSPA Planning for Success

“My way or the highway.”

However longstanding and embedded a statement, this is no longer an effective strategy to manage your SDR team; companies risk creating a rift between them and their employees. Youthful, budding employees will question the reasoning behind methods that restrict experimentation, while experienced employees will prefer to utilize their own proven methods with which they are most comfortable. In both situations, allowing the employee to become engaged and access the way that is most effective for them to achieve their quotas is more productive, and yields greater results when compared to following a rigid set of processes.

You, as the SDR manager and sales leader, have your own set of priorities and objectives that must be met within each quarter. It is your responsibility to enforce behaviors that will allow your team to achieve their objectives. Millennial and Gen Z employees (now the dominant force in the workplace) may believe their social media, internet, and technology skills are the best techniques to meet their objectives. Although it is your responsibility to assure the productivity and effectiveness of your teams, placing strict rules and requirements on HOW they meet their goals and tasks may make your employees feel constricted and lower morale.

The question remains: “How can my team meet their objectives without the implication of authoritarian management?”

The answer is GOSPA — Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Plans, and Activities.

GOSPA is a longstanding tool that companies have utilized to meet their objectives. It is a short, 1-2-page planning tool that outlines specific tasks which allow each team member to meet their Key Performance Indicator (KPI). As each KPI is met, the probability of meeting each objective also increases. I was introduced to GOSPA in 1991, by the Chief Sales Officer for one of my employers, who required Field Sales and Inside Sales people to build a quarterly GOSPA plan. It was a highly effective tool, and I have been using this methodology throughout my career ever since.

An effective GOSPA plan aligns reps’ goals and objectives with the objectives and KPIs of the management team. It enables each employee to create a plan to meet their objectives, giving a sense of independence and value. In this way, GOSPA allows your team to contribute to the decision-making process.

Manage Your Team Their Way

The most effective way to manage your SDR team is to allow them to find their own technique for success. Building a GOSPA plan (which you, as manager, will review) will help employees find their mistakes and correct their actions, and remain accountable for monthly and quarterly results. As a manager, I require all of my teams to build a quarterly GOSPA. When SDRs and development reps know their Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Plans, and Activities, you—the manager—can review their KPIs against the plan during your weekly meetings. Now it is their responsibility to meet and stand by their stated objectives. In short, with a GOSPA in place, employees show their Managers how they will meet their goals instead of Managers telling them what to do.

During the GOSPA planning sessions, I recommend that the manager and employee create an agreement for the consequence of not meeting stated objectives. For example, you may discuss the methods of additional coaching/support/performance improvements for a team member who is unable to reach their GOSPA. Advanced planning removes the element of “surprise” for the employee, giving them the push to reach for help and constructively criticize their own performance.

Team members often get enthusiastic about GOSPA for its ability to align to their personal goals (my recommendation). For example, let us propose that one of your team members needs a certain amount of commission to purchase a new car. If she aligns her GOSPA to this plan, she will become more motivated to work towards her plan and succeed in her objectives.

GOSPA—A Powerful Planning Tool

GOSPA planning is most effective when it used quarterly. Each plan should be short and simple, allowing your team to review and modify their plans daily. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that while GOSPA plans should align themselves with corporate goals, their practicality should not be overlooked. If objectives are set too high, there is a higher chance that goals will not be met. For example, a GOSPA plan has an objective to meet 150% of sales reps’ quotas; it may not be achievable due to the number of activities that will be required during the quarter. Therefore it is your job as the manager to examine the practicality of each team member’s GOSPA.

GOSPA is a powerful planning tool; when it is implemented and managed regularly, team members are given more control of their destinies and results. The payoff for managers results in successful, highly motivated sales teams.

Alicia’s Tip: Use GOSPA to help your team self-manage to corporate expectations. GOSPAs should be based on team member goals, such as the amount of commission they want to earn each quarter, or awards they want to achieve, such as SDR of the Quarter. Keep the GOSPAs simple and easy to review. Manage your team’s GOSPA’s to ensure that they are realistic and map to corporate goals.

Download the free GOSPA Planning tool here.

Read the book The Radical Pipeline Strategy: How to Grow Pipeline and Revenue by Optimizing Sales Development. This book outlines tested best practices and implementation strategies that I developed while rebooting and building 65 SDR and Inside Sales organizations.

Find out more about SOMAmetrics’ Intelligent Prospecting Platform and get free resources on our website at