Several months ago, I was hired (from "outside" the company) as a manager of a small team . So was my manager. We noticed that one of the employees seems to be paid a lot higher than the benchmark for the role he has. He does a good job as a junior employee, but has never been promoted. I just think that the previous manager "fell asleep at the wheel" when giving out pay raises.

We believe it is time to ask more out of this employee and to evolve his role to match the salary he is getting. However, the employee believes he should be promoted first and paid more for the additional/higher level responsibilities.

Now, it is not exactly the employee's fault that he got to a point of being overpaid for his current role. So, it is acceptable to ask the employee to step up without getting an increase in pay in this case? Do we have the right to ask the employee to "step down" in pay if he stays in the current role? Is it "fair" to change the "rules of the game" like this?

juliahhavener's picture
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Having had this discussion with a good friend repeatedly in the last year:

I don't think it would be fair to 'penalize' his pay structure at this point. It would be changing the rules.

I do think it's entirely appropriate to encourage him to stretch and grow to the next step. His pay is for his time, knowledge, and skill, not for how well he does his job. If he has the time, knowledge, and skill, it is [i]expected[/i] that his job performance and responsibilities should grow and change. If they do, he will be compensated...not for his new schedule, but for his professional growth and development...and ability to [i]continue[/i] to grow and develop leading to...I hope you see where I'm going with this.

My friend hasn't figured it out yet. It's why I've gotten two promotions to his none. More importantly, it's why I'm incredibly happy in my work (even at considerably less compensation I was happy because I was growing).

bflynn's picture

Tony - Julia is spot on. No to a pay cut, but yes to asking him to step up.

A warning - Giving him lower than average pay increases is the same as telling him he's not doing a good job, the same as a pay cut. I have seen good employees become demoralized over this. When he gets promoted, his percentage increase won't be as large, so moral will be something to monitor closely. Figure out other ways to reward his eventual promotion so you can keep the dollars under control. What works is different for everyone. I've seen a small increase plus a spot bonus be very effective, but its not for every situation.

Whether anyone recognizes it or not, this guy is in an Up or Out situation. He must step up to earn his pay or he will be leaving your company. Keeping him on means that somebody else is underpaid and hampers your ability to get the next person on board.

As to which comes first, promotion or performance: Performance always comes first. You have to do the job before you get the job. It is the way of the world.

I recommend sitting down and having a very frank discussion with him about his situation. Do not make promises as to timing, etc. Set out the expectations and be sure that he knows how he is doing with them. When he meets them, make sure the promotion follows.


trandell's picture

Tough situation. I totally agree with Brian and Julia. They give excellent advice.

tokyotony's picture

I think both Brian and Julia have good points and I pretty much agree with stance. I think after reading their posts, I have come to my main concern:

How to ensure that the employee knows that there is nothing wrong about how he is performing as a "junior" staff--in fact, he is doing a very good job at that level. However, since he is getting paid more than what is normal for a junior level employee, we cannot give him a pay raise, even though he was given pay raises in the past for good performance (by a manager that wasn't paying attention to benchmark salaries).

pneuhardt's picture

I have been faced with a nearly identical situation, and what I recommend is this: tell the truth. Perhaps not the whole truth, but most of it. Emphasizing what others have said, I feel these points need to be emphasized to your employee (not necessarily in this order)

1. He is a good employee at what he has been doing and has been rewarded for that.

2. To be blunt, the reward has been out of proportion with his position. This is not his fault and he isn't to be punished for it by a salary reduction, but the issue has to be dealt with and that is going to take the form of minimal future increases, or perhaps no increases for a significant period of time.

3. You have every confidence he can achieve more than he has been and adding new responsibilities is a way for him to demonstrate that.

4. Promotion, and the compensation that goes with it, is every bit as much a recognition of past achievement and not just of potential. The expectation that it is simply a case of "more money for more work" is not accurate.

5. Given the disparity between his role and his compensation, you feel it is time he grow in to the new role without more compensation as, again in all bluntness, his compensation already reflects that role.

6. Once he has demonstrated aptitude for the new role, you see no reason why his compensation path can't then continue upwards as his responsibility and accomplishements grow.

7. Emphasize that while he may not be getting additional compensation in the short term on this path, he would likely be hurting his long-term chances for financial growth by not taking the new opportunity given the disparity between current position and current salary.

8 Lastly, tell him you are sure he will make the decision that is truly in his own best interests. Then, wait and see what he does. If he balks at the promotion with no pay, then perhaps he wasn't cut out for the advanced position anyway.

tokyotony's picture


Very clear to me. Thanks.

And, if the employee decides not to evolve to the role commensurate with his current pay? Let's say we go to the extreme and look at letting him go. He could always pull out his old job description and say "hey, I'm doing my current job well, you can't let me go!"



juliahhavener's picture
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That's true...but you don't have to give him much of a raise either, because he's just doing his job and NOT at the top of that ever-present bell curve.

bflynn's picture

Tony - my advice is that if the employee refuses to step up, then he has to be released. There is no standing still here. There is no dragging of the feet. Its not an option.

Maybe this is my dark side coming out, but your company is investing in his salary. If he is not delivering good value for that investment, there are a hundred other people behind him who want to do the job for a regular salary.

Its not personal, he's not a bad person, its just business.


Mark's picture
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My apologies for my delay.

Brilliant advice, all. Ask him to step up. Tell the truth. Be candid.

We have a cast on this coming out soon, I think.

Again, I regret my absence.


tokyotony's picture

Well, it has been about 2 months since the employee has been asked to step up. As a start, we have given him some objectives to accomplish by the middle of this year.

However, I have not seen any progress in accomplishing them. He continues to do his old tasks and habits and not delegate. The reason he gives is that urgent things have come up that needed to be taken care of. Without digging down deep into the work or fully doing the job myself, I feel as though I cannot argue with that.

Not sure what to do here. I can eventually hear the employee saying "I'm just too busy to accomplish the objectives you gave me and we agreed to. If you really want me to do these new tasks, we will need new staff. I can't give it to my junior since she is already too busy."

So, unless I journal and watch everything he does throughout the day, I feel like it is his opinion against mine.

pneuhardt's picture

Allow me to anticiapte Mark's response, having said the wrong thing here once before on this subject in a response "The Juggling Koan."

Your delegating to him defines what is most important to him. It is up to him to take the "new balls" and deal with them, delegate less vital things for him to be doing to his directs, and then up to the direct then deal appropriately with the most important items on his updated list of "balls."

Anyone not doing this needs feedback and coaching. This is how management works, and if this isn't what is happening, it's not effective management.

Did I get it right?

Mark's picture
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Oh, bloody hell, you trust a guy, and then he goes and...

gets it right. :wink:


I am not surprised. (One learns not to be surprised by either extreme. It's ... human.)

Never argue with excuses. You gave him something to do, and he didn't do it. Give him feedback. Even IF his excuses are legitimate, he's not doing what you believe is more valuable.

Feedback and coaching. If you're not giving this guy feedback 2-3-4-5 times a week, you are complicit in his coming failure. Do NOT shy away from being polite and telling him he didn't do what he agreed to.

He CAN give it to junior folks, and then he may have to give them feedback and coach and delegate and make choices. This is what managers DO.

Better document lack of progress, every week, in one on ones...

Stay frosty.


tokyotony's picture


Thanks for "staying up" with me on this topic.

Another update....

I do have each weekly meeting with him documented, but I think I could have been a bit more frank in my feedback...looking back.

Every week had another first it was that it would take some time to read through the base materials. Then it was that another staff went off on sudden break and he had to cover. Then his dog died and he took off several days (he was really attached to it). And recently, one of the senior staff quit and we all had to dive in. So, before _I_ knew it, we are now two months later and....

He finally gave me his plan from April for implementing the project. A good start and I do agree with how he wants to approach it. Actually, I think his ideas were really good.

I think I am partly at fault here since I kept extending the "deadline". I finally gave him an non-negotiable deadline--by end of this week before a senior manager comes to town next week to check progress on the project.

In reality, the original deadline was somewhat artificial, so he really didn't _have_ to have it done until end of 1st Quarter to implement for next quarter. However, I personally don't like waiting until last minute. And, I felt that he did not show initiative or sincere interest in what I wanted him to accomplish.

For me, if manager asks me to do something, I pretty much put all effort into getting it done in a timely manner--even before the deadline. I don't see the same spark in him. And I think this is what senior manager and I see. He does all the daily admin and operational work well (i.e. the junior role), but doesn't really pull himself up. I think this is the "rub".

I think a post-mortem on how he (we?) did the last three month (a mid-term review for accomplishing goals set in January) will help us to find out what happened and how to make a correction moving forward.


pneuhardt's picture


I would say that no matter what else you do, coaching is in order. Here's why.

I was one of those that always felt I "did better under pressure." While I never sought to create situations where I was under the gun to deliver quickly, I relished them when they happened. Eventually, I figured out something that, when you think about it, seems obvious.

If you always put things off to the last minute, the best you can do is meet your deadlines and goals. You make it impossible to over-deliver and thus over-achieve. Furthermore, all set-backs become crises and you fail more frequently because of them.

Anyone that "lets things slide" as a pattern of professional behavior is automatically setting themselves up to do no more than "get by." If this person truly wishes to get ahead, then getting by isn't enough. As his manager, you have the responsibility to him to at least try to coach him to that understanding. It is then up to him to modify the behavior.

Mark's picture
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And hopefully posiitive feedback on the project plan, too!


slymcmosa's picture


Great courage in offering yourself and your current problem in this forum. most of this discussion seems to center around you and the individual, and how your relationship is defined as manager.

It seems to me that there needs to be a more organizational approach. Maybe all the details aren't here since you are aiming at brevity, but it seems that you have described a vertical which has this person reporting to you and a single person reporting to that person. What is the purpose of so narrow a vertical? For instance why are they not both reporting to you and you distributing the work between the two of them? It is also unclear if the concept of 'senior vs. junior' is bound to 'manager vs. individual contributor'. I think fusing those two things can very difficult and is actually a mistake, and if that is the expectation that has to be made very clear in communication.

I would ask you, if the size of the various balls are clear to you and to him. For instance is he looking at how 'critical' a ball is to determine its size and you are looking how 'sophisticated' it is, even if it isn't pressing time wise.
Often I think these types of discrepansies stem from an organization sending mixed messages as to what are the large balls, and if you are new to your roll he might not trust you to determine which balls are the largest just like you obviously don't trust him to make that decision. So making it clear that not just you but the organization sees these new tasks as the largest, he can gain confidence in letting the other balls fall. this can be done outside the one-on-one.

tokyotony's picture

Well, the individual I have been speaking about has found employment elsewhere. I have mixed emotions about this. Somehow, I wonder how much of this was my fault...was I too candid in my feedback? Was my feedback unbalanced? What could I have done differently? I did ask him, but he is being pretty neutral in reasons for leaving..i.e. "oh, I just want to refresh my career."

On the other hand, I think he just got stale for being at the same job for 7 years and not really evolving. In fact, since new management came in about a year ago (myself and my counterpart plus our senior manager), almost all staff have left and we have almost a new team AND we have always been regarded as the "star" site in Asia.

In my opinion, I think people get too relaxed, and when new management comes in, they tend to shun change and leave. Not easy for us, since we now have to bring in new talent and train up, but I think in the long-term, we should be okay.

pneuhardt's picture


At some point a person has to take responsibility for his own actions and step up. If you can honestly say you did what you could to give him that opportunity, then the only thing left was for him to take it. He didn't.

One thing I have learned over the years from knowing ministers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, police officers, fire fighters and social workers is that you can't save everyone. Sometimes, you can't save someone because they don't want to be saved. It's up to them.

Learn what you can about yourself from this experience. Your future behavior is the only thing you can change.

tkearns's picture

Tony it everything you stated is accurate, it sounds to me like you were dealing with a "Paycheck" employee. This individual became very comfortable with an excessive pay scale for the work his position required, and obviously was not willing to put forth the effort required to balance the scale. I am not against underachievers, they are a neccessary evil in life, I would feel much worse overlooking an ambitious junior employee in need of advancement, it seems from your posts that you have taken a much more active roll than your prediscessor and most likely wont encounter this problem again.

mapletree's picture
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I have a scaringly similar situation with an individual whom I hired myself. She was hired as a senior person but over the past few years it has become apparent that she can do or chooses to perform only at a basic junior level. I have regularly indicated during one on ones and reviews that although she complets basic tasks ok her overall performance and growth does not reflect that of a senior person. I can't seem to get through to this person. She seems to agree with me during our discussions but does nothing about it. Intrestingly though this person has gone to our HR department to compain about me not motivating her enough and intentionally excluding her. In terms of monetery penalties I have given this person mediocre reviews and increases to send the message another way.

Although I feel at fault for hiring a person for a senior position which turned out to be unqualified is it my responsibility to keep them on life support since I got them into this situation? In reality I think she should be terminated for poor performance but we never see eye to eye.

Mark's picture
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It is NOT your responsibility to keep them on life support. It IS your responsibility (now or in the past) to give detailed feedback, be candid and direct and caring, and document their failed performance. Repeated performance failures that are clearly communicated over a reasonable period are grounds for termination.


juliahhavener's picture
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Mark totally beat me to the punch.

It's all about those clear communication: goals, feedback, coaching...document it. If you have not seen improvement in those areas over time, it is grounds for termination.

That said - go back to the feedback, one on one, and coaching podcasts - probably ESPECIALLY the late-stage coaching podcast. Because of my documentation of ongoing coaching for one of my team members, when I had to provide a final written warning for abysmal performance - he had no question where the responsibility for the position he was in properly lay. The documentation my O3s provided gave a solid basis for the 'formal' documentation.

At the time, it was not a comfort to me. Now, I do find some comfort in the fact that he knew - he knew he had (in his words, not mine) let me down, that he had made so much progress and shot all of that hard work in a minute's lapse. Since then, he has regained a lot of ground and continues to make improvements in his performance.

Just because you're here right now, doesn't mean you can't move forward - one way or the other. And if it is the other, at least all parties will know that the support and dedication was there from your side.

mapletree's picture
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I totally agree. I feel that I have been telling her all along that she is not performing at a sr. level. I've jotted it down in 1on1 notes as well as formally in her last review. The problem I have now is that I have never gained trust in her to come through on important projects (without my involvement) so I tend not to give them to her. At this point she is doing less than before and often blames me for not giving her enough work to feel challenged when the fact of the matter is I have given her several opportunities to shine and she has let them slip. These are usually not specific measurable projects but rather responsibilities. She always has an exuse for everything. How can I measure her performance in these areas enough to document it. I have this same conversation loop with my HR person....

cb_bob's picture


Have you tried the M-T feedback model? "You are not performing at a senior level," is not a specific behavior. What SPECIFICALLY is she doing that you would like her to NOT do? Also, what SPECIFICALLY is she doing that you would like her to continue to do? Give her feedback on these items and her behavior will either change, or you will have measureable results to give back to HR.


mapletree's picture
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I think I am very specific but I want to make sure. I will tell her that "I would like you to be more decisive when being asked questions in meetings...". and maybe an example. Rather than you did xyz 3 times last month I wanted you to do it 5 times.

Peter.westley's picture
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"Being more decisive" is still an evaluation or judgement on her behaviour. It's not behaviour.

Think about what you mean by being decisive. Describe what you see when she's being indecisive. Use the specific example first, rather than as a follow up: "when you respond to a question by talking for five minutes and not giving a direct answer or any answer at all, here's what happens...what could you do differently next time?".

Make sure the example is what just happened - e.g. immediately after a meeting where she didn't answer the question.

It's not easy sometimes to identify behaviour from our judgements.

Behaviour is always something you can see and describe.

Hope that helps,

ccleveland's picture


Have you listened to the [url=]Giving Effective Feedback[/url] podcasts? If not, this will really help you.

To add to what Peter said, giving feedback is about changing or reinforcing behavior. Provide feedback [u]when you observe bad or good behaviors[/u] (e.g., when your direct answers questions by providing reasons why it is difficult to answer a question, etc.).

[u]Feedback is not about you telling your direct how to behave[/u], it is for pointing out the effect of good/bad behavior. In the case of behavior that needs to be corrected, you also ask your direct how to do it differently.

Follow the four step model. It feels weird, until you get used to it; however, it works and works very, very well.