The theme of this year's CBC Canada Reads was Starting Over and that got me thinking about starting over on the job.

How do we resurrect our performance and behaviours when they have lagged or slipped? How do we navigate being placed on probation again or a dreaded "PIP" being enacted by our manager? ("PIP" is the commonly used acronym for a Performance Improvement Plan which is HR speak for the cruder and not very helpful `Shape up or ship out.')

Positive PIP experiences

PIPs, when done positively and well, are one recipe for getting a redo on our lacklustre performance and behaviour. They focus everyone's attention on the specific deliverables or results that are expected, hopefully identified in measurable or observable ways that enable boss and direct report to double their efforts to be successful.


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Some might say such programs can be a feeble attempt by a manager or supervisor to be seen to have given a last chance prior to dismissing or demoting an employee and sadly in some instances that may be the case. That said, I have witnessed countless instances where formalized scrutiny was a turning point especially when an employee and their manager, take shared responsibility for having the situation deteriorate and for improving it.

I have been party to many an instance where coaching and conversation had been attempted and failed but only the intense scrutiny of a PIP brought about real change.

I recall one instance where a team leader (we'll call her Sophia) whose performance was not meeting expectations, openly and somewhat embarrassingly shared her performance challenge and the requirement to improve in measurable ways within 90 days with her staff. The disclosure was very humbling, took guts and Sophia wasn't sure how staff would react. Though she was well-liked, staff were frustrated with her performance as well. The team rallied around her, they took it on collectively and she has never looked back.

Sophia was supported, cheered on and helped by a boss who genuinely felt partly responsible for the situation (as often should be the case) and her boss was the first — OK maybe second — to feel the relief when the situation improved. 

Yet many managers have confided in me that they have often had real doubts whether or not an employee will "make it" when they attempt to start over and redress performance or behavioural issues.

'Restarts are not always dependent on your job being on the line.'

That skepticism is fair as long as it is accompanied by helping the person succeed. If the employee fails, it only happens following the best conditions being laid out and all the support, hope and optimism the boss can muster. However, restarts are not always dependent on your job being on the line.

I know of countless individuals whose wake up call for starting over was being unhappy, uninvigorated and generally not "feeling it" in their job as they once did. Those may all be signs that a move is needed but I believe if you like your employer and working conditions but the job is getting to you, seeking out ways to regain a sense of meaning and accomplishment is worthwhile before looking elsewhere. At times challenging relationships can be at heart of the matter.

Arduous but doable

When key relationships have deteriorated, the road back can be arduous but it is doable. Take Gregg for instance, (not his real name), he was unhappy in his job and but good employers were rare in his rural community. Gregg would readily admit that early on as a project manager he had soured relationships due to his inexperience and inability to negotiate effectively without resorting to methods that, in hindsight, were inappropriate and damaging.  He was not the type to do a mea culpa with his peers and ask for a fresh start which may have jump started things. Instead, Gregg was very deliberate and purposeful to seek out individuals and opportunities to rebuild frayed relationships by being helpful, positive and a fair and principled negotiator after investing in training to learn how. He would tell you today that it has worked for the most part and over several months he has regained trust and rebuilt relationships with most (but not all) of his colleagues and his satisfaction with his role has skyrocketed. He is also much more effective and as a result his relationship with his boss has also improved substantially.

Chipping away at relationships, open dialogue with your manager and others, seeking out projects or special initiatives or a particular focus on learning can ignite starting over. Non-stop happiness and satisfaction are not a constant or a given even within jobs we genuinely like. The trick to starting over is to recognize that such ebbs and flows in our engagement are par for the course but sometimes a jump start and focused effort is needed to resurrect our job satisfaction.