So I got this direct who has been a problem for a number of years. He's been warned countless times, by me and by people who were his boss before me. He was on an elongated formal review a year ago, and the bosses at the time let him off the hook. As soon as he was let off review, his spiraled into doing terrible work.

Over the past 3 months i've given the direct many warnings, i've documented in great detail how his work is not up to standard. So now b/c of HR, I had to put him on another formal review of 4 weeks before i can fire him.

The idea is, for liability i assume, he needs yet another formal chance to turn it around. So 2 weeks into the review, i tell him again, how he needs to plan for the worst, that what he's done thus far is not meeting the performance peramaters we set up during the official review period.

And wouldn't you know it, during the past 5 workdays, he's been performing so well. His dimeaner and attitude are sparkling.

While I'm sure that at the end of next week i'll have the documentation to say he didn't meet the standards of the review period, it would be odd to fire someone who would be coming off of 2 top weeks. It would sort of expose the final turn-around chance as a bit of a charade.

Should i care? Is this not fair? You gotta remember i have 4+ years of work to judge this person by, and no matter what i will never trust that a turnaround is sustainable.

mattpalmer's picture

If you have notes on the past 4 years of performance, that's a nice backdrop to this week or two of good performance.  Then you keep documenting after the review period, and the moment he backslides, you give him feedback, and if it doesn't pick back up again, down comes the hammer.

You don't say anything about what you're doing with one-on-ones, feedback, or coaching.  If you're not doing these religiously, then you're probably not really giving your direct a fair go.  I don't consider it fair to let someone spiral into bad work habits, then let them languish for nine months, then give them three months of warnings and documentation and expect them to magically come good.  Especially if a similar pattern has held firm for the last four years.  Your direct probably figures this is just how this is.

So, break the cycle.  From now on, commit to giving your direct feedback about their work (at least as much good as bad) at least once a week.  Every week.  Not after nine months of doing dodgy work without any feedback.  Document all of these instances of feedback, and keep notes on a regular schedule about what behaviours you've observed.  Use coaching to improve aspects of your direct's work that need assistance, again reinforced with feedback.

Sooner or later, one of two things will happen:

1) Your direct will have developed a habit of good work, reinforced by regular positive feedback.  Congratulations, you've won.

2) Your direct's performance will not have materially changed, but you'll have months of regular, contemporaneous notes about your direct's substandard performance, and the feedback and coaching you've done which demonstrate a sincere attempt to help your direct improve.  You take all that to HR, and they say "wow, why didn't you come to us months ago!", and your direct is looking for a new job.  Congratulations, you've won.

duplicate_account_MarkAus's picture

In addition to what Matt Palmer said above about needing documentation and regular feedback -- While on this 4 week period, make sure you're not being too prescriptive with your feedback (telling the direct exactly how to behave in each instance).   In this case, the direct needs to change his/her long term behaviour, not follow short term orders (which is the easiest option for the direct).    A direct who really wants to improve will.  A direct who doesn't will follow orders until the heat's off.

Also, I'm sure you can extend that review by another 4 weeks or so if you need more data.  

Around your other question - I don't think it would be at all strange to fire someone after two weeks of good performance if it was preceeded by 4 years of bad performance.   People tend to do what they have to do in order to keep eating and paying the rent.  (The caveat is that you've been doing everything you should be doing and documenting specifics as you go.)

I also notice you said he improved because his "demeanour and attitude were sparkling".  What about the work produced or the way he behaves around producing that work?   Have you seen a radical improvement in those or only a marginal one?   Ultimately, that's your criteria.

Surely, at the end of the day, the success or failure of the review rests with your judgement.   No HR process can undercut that or save you from making hard decisions.  Was the two weeks of success enough to save the person?   Did you give the direct every bit of help and opportunity you could?  You might feel sick to your stomach the morning the firing, but will you sleep well that night?

It is wonderful that you care and are worried about this - it makes me glad you're in management.  But it sounds to me that you've already made up your mind.   If your judgement is rooted in integrity and good intentions, you can trust your judgement.

Camby's picture


I have given the direct a lot of regular feedback over the past 10 months or so that i've been in charge of him. By regular, i mean to say that he would hear from me at least once every 3 days about the quality of his work, both good and bad. 

I don't do O3s every week. I've done them with him once a month. But over the past 3 months i've been doing them with him more, around one every two weeks.

The dimeanor improvement thing i simply note to show how eager he is to NOT get fired. It's as if he's begging me not to fire him, by even changing his body language and tone of voice. He's going to THAT extent ... I'm certainly not letting that influence me all that much. It's the quality of his work that's improved over the past 5/6 days that's got me thrown for a bit of a loop.

It is important to note, we've scene this cycle from him before. It's really almost even more maddening that it takes us bringing him to the absolute brink for him to start caring about the job and meeting our standards.

mattpalmer's picture

While I don't advocate fear as a motivational technique, perhaps the issue is that your direct doesn't realise that, employment contracts or local laws notwithstanding, he *can* be fired at any time, for any reason that doesn't contravene applicable laws.  A frank (but pleasant) talk about how gratified you are that your direct has recently improved his performance, but that you will need to see this level of performance consistently from now on, or it's out the door.  If HR are going to require another performance plan, so be it -- the *moment* his results drop (not nine months later), back on the plan he goes.  Sooner or later, either HR will get sick of it and let you can him, he won't pick up his game in a performance plan and HR will let you can him, or he'll get sick of being on the plans and his results will stay high, in which case there's nothing to worry about.

Camby's picture

well, i did it. i did the firing. it was the right thing to do, and i had HR support and the support of my bosses. the direct thought it was unfair, but his perception was a bit delusional, i think. i can already notice how much better/smoother things are running just in this person's absence without his negligent performance being a distraction and a drain on resources.

mattpalmer's picture

Well done on making the tough choice that none of your predecessors were willing to make.