I had to put LinkedIn workers on performance-improvement plans — then I got laid off myself

I had to put LinkedIn workers on performance-improvement plans — then I got laid off myself
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LinkedIn laid off thousands of employees last year.

  • A former LinkedIn engineering manager recounts the company’s shift in performance evaluation.
  • He said he had to identify underperforming employees to put on performance improvement plans (PIPs.) 
  • LinkedIn then laid off more than 1,400 workers in two rounds of job cuts last year. 

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with a former senior engineering manager at LinkedIn. Business Insider has verified his former employment. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

When I transitioned into a management role at LinkedIn, it was with the goal of helping people become the best engineers and teammates possible.

For several years, I had the pleasure of being able to do just that, and with the full support and encouragement of my company. Then, all that changed when I was asked early last year to identify 10% of my team who were not meeting expectations, even if they were.

It made me feel very frustrated and sad that it had gotten to that point. Before that point, LinkedIn was a company that lived its values even in challenging times. Being asked to do that wasn’t just wrong — it went against the company’s values, which was very hard to accept.

It was contrary to the way we were encouraged to manage people in the years before. It was sort of wrapped in “it’s not that we want you to misidentify people,” but we had to stack-rank our team.

LinkedIn has a one to five tier system to rate workers’ performance. A five means they are exceeding expectations, while a one or a two means they are underperforming and at risk of being put on a PIP. 

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I know some managers felt the pressure to find “twos” and give them to people who they felt didn’t deserve it.

During the pandemic, we sort of lowered the bar of performance expectations. We had this concept of “soft threes”, where maybe there are good reasons people aren’t performing well because of mental health or things of that nature, and the sentiment among higher-ups was that “you’re putting them on a 3 rating because you’re trying to take care of them” and that we should stop doing that in 2023.

There’s a 3-step process before a PIP

The first step was that I had to identify some of the underperformers on my team. Then, you put those employees on a 30-day plan to improve. If they don’t, we move them to an “improvement goal,” or IG, which is a slightly more formal 30-day improvement plan. If they’re still not meeting expectations at the end of that, then they’re placed on an official performance improvement plan.

My manager told me to identify people who I truly believed met that criteria. At first, I couldn’t identify anyone who did, but after a director’s meeting, my manager said I really needed to find somebody. It sort of felt like the rug was pulled out from under me in the sense that I had to find someone.

Performance was assessed using a quantifiable score, something called the CPP, which is a “Career Performance Profile.” It’s like a checklist of behaviors and evidence indicators that they want to see from you. It’s what we use to determine that somebody is ready for promotion. You would assess somebody as an engineer in three primary areas: leadership, execution, and craftsmanship.

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I identified one person on my team who was not fully meeting expectations. They could’ve got a three rating in years past, but if looking at the CPP guidelines, they were not, so I accepted that one person was an underperformer. But that person managed to exit the process in the 30-day stage and was able to improve, so they didn’t get as far as being put on a PIP.

Herculean effort to come back from a PIP

Some people survived the PIPs as the idea is to coach them out of it. But once you get put on a PIP, it is very challenging to come back from because of the three-stage process that comes before that. It was pretty rare for people to successfully get out of a PIP, because in a manager’s mind, they were given opportunities to improve in the steps before that.

If you’re put on a PIP, decide whether you really want to come back from this because it’s going to take a lot of effort. At that point, the clock is ticking. So consider if you want to put that time and effort into starting to get your affairs in order. It’s really hard to come back from a PIP, and in the tech industry, it’s considered a foregone conclusion once you get to that stage.

You also have to look at the environment for what it is. Do you think you’re not performing, or are you not valued by your direct manager, and are they going to give you the right support? Going into the PIP, do you get the feeling that your manager wants you to succeed? If they are already starting to be a little cold or reserved, it’s unlikely you’re going to change their mind.

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‘Kill list’ leaked on Blind

LinkedIn laid off 716 sales, operations, and support workers in May 2023. Then, in October, a list of people who were going to get laid off in its second round of cuts was leaked on Blind over a weekend.

Other managers texted me and said there was a “kill list” on Blind. The list was taken down, but the people who had it said that they would check to see if my name was on the list, but I didn’t want to know.

The following Monday we got an email announcing the layoffs. I saw I was one of the folks who were chosen. I was surprised because I thought I was perceived as someone who brought high value to the company.

But I was grateful that, as a leader, I didn’t have to lay somebody from my team off, and I felt like I was lucky that I wouldn’t have to do that to somebody else.

LinkedIn did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider. A spokesperson previously told BI that it did not have a percentage mandate for performance management.

Are you a tech worker with insight to share? Contact this reporter at [email protected]

Read the original article on Business Insider


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