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Submitted by O.H. on


BLUF: I have recently started a new management role in one of the top 3 companies I always wanted to work for (thanks MT Interview Series). I inherited a poor performer and he needs feedback immediately. MT says wait. What do I do?

I have inherited a poor performer. “He is chaotic, unstructured, and all over the place,” says me boss. “Fix him or get rid of him”. There are no performance reviews on record.
I am following the suggestion of the MT cast on inheriting a poor performer and I am implementing the suggestions made there. My direct appreciated the “clean slate” approach and our first meeting went very well. He liked the thought of a second chance and just a few days later he lets me down by not showing up at one of my boss’ meeting where his attendance was clearly required, he has let me down by simply not showing up for our first one on one, even though he agreed to doing them and it was visibly scheduled in his calendar. There were other, less important occasions of absence as well.
Other people raise an eyebrow when his name comes up, and hint at his erratic work style.
The trinity suggest waiting with feedback. Recent casts on “feedback before it’s time” also suggest that we give feeback but not within “The Model” and to start with positive feedback first.
I have only had 2-3 chances to give him positive feedback which I have done outside of the model.
I don’t what to let the instances that require negative feedback slip by; as I am concerned it will further reinforce his behaviour.
Ideally, I want to keep him, because he has a great amount of knowledge in his field.
What would you do?

mattpalmer's picture

The key issue here is whether you can stand to let the direct stumble around for long enough to build up an effective relationship that will allow feedback to have the full positive effect.  If you can't, then clearly you need to start working on something sooner than the guidance would ordinarily recommend.  I'd say that MT feedback is going to be more effective than any other sort of performance communication (when delivered properly), even without the usual relationship building -- it just won't be as effective as it would be if you were able to wait.

My gut call on this is that you can *probably* wait for a while.  Your boss gave you two options, and waiting a little while would, in my view, count as "fixing him".  I'd make sure your boss is completely in the loop about your plans, though.  The last thing you'd want is for your boss' lack of visibility into your attempts to improve your direct's performance to reflect poorly on you (as any sort of lack of motivation to follow your boss' instructions).

I definitely agree that you don't want to let negative behaviours go by without comment, though.  That'll just be sending mixed messages -- he will have been "getting away with" negative behaviours for several months before you suddenly start giving him negative feedback.  I'd keep it relatively gentle, but make it clear that you don't approve of not turning up to a meeting with your boss, or skipping your O3.  I don't have any specific wording suggestions, though, unfortunately.

acao162's picture

I know this stumbling block - you want to "do it right" but sometimes that isn't the reality for today.  So, I'd use a coaching model I was taught by a very respected boss:

Me:  "Joe, I missed you at the meeting with Boss today.  What happened?"

Joe:  "Oh, I forgot."

Me:  "You were expected to be there.  We waited for you and Boss was not pleased."

Joe:  "Geez, everyone makes mistakes.  I'm sorry.  I'll be there next time"  (or some other such nonsense)

Me:  "Listen, this isn't behaviour I'm willing to have on my team.  From today forward, if you have a meeting on your calendar, I expect that you will be there, on time & prepared.  Can you commit to that?"

Joe: "Probably."

Me:  "Joe, this is serious.  I want to start fresh with you but your current actions are creating a poor track record.  Can you commit to being at every meeting on your calendar, on time and prepared?"

You are effectively using the feedback model (When you don't come to a meeting, here's what happens, the boss is not pleased.  What can you do differently)  Except you are giving the required "different".  It's more "Shot across the bow" but with a serious issue (non-attendance at a mandatory meeting), I would say it was warranted.  If you are considering termination (and it appears your boss is) it is time to lay out exactly what the problem is.

That way, if you do have to terminate, you are doing it for specific commitments not met.  It isn't about attitude.  It's about you committed to ABC and did not follow through. 

flexiblefine's picture

Does your boss have some timeline in mind for the "fix him or get rid of him" action? You might want to check and see how much time you have to show progress on the "fix him" option.

With no performance reviews on file, I hope your boss won't argue with trying to give the guy (and you) some time to take a fair shot at improvement.

Houston, Texas, USA
DiSC: 1476

macfarmw's picture

I liked your wording suggestion, especially the part about asking the direct to commit to the desired behavior in the future.

Matthew MacFarland
Manager of Software Development
Dril-Quip, Inc. Houston, Texas

WonderWoman's picture

I inherited a poor performer last year.   I knew he had issues in other departments & companies, because, well, he used to be MY supervisor 11 years ago when I first started my career.

Catapult 11 years ... I'm a VP incharge of a department with a Masters Degree ... he's still an entry level employee trying to complete his AA degree.

He had worked on some side-projects of mine (which caused an issue when he didn't follow through with his regularly scheduled duties). When I was finally approved for an assistant, eventhough I specifically asked for applications, HR gladly moved him under me.    I was told that since we have worked together for so long, that I would be the best manager for him.  (I'm learning that they meant "yay, now we don't have to be the bad guy for firing him).

I wasn't so concerned at first, he is a very eager, optimistic employee. Then the bad habits started to drift in.

When he failed a mandatory certification exam twice, I told him he needed to pass it the third time, or I would be forced to let him go.  He did pass - but only by 2 points.   I had failed to mention that I wanted him to pass above a ##%, so that's my error.

I decided to give him a "clean slate" after he passed.  But soon he started letting other things go.   He ignores his lunch hours, comes in late, fails to tell me of audit exceptions and important phone calls. He doesn't understand basic concepts necessary to complete his job or grow in his position. His work is that of a C-level, adolescent employee with no experience.

So now I've told him he has 90 days to be able to accomplish every item in his job description, under limited supervision, or I'll have to let him go.   (This is a recommendation from HR, not MT) ....  & I feel like this may be a mistake if I don't do this right (similar to the certification incident)

I don't think this is the career for him & everyone over the years has just let him float on to the next place instead of holding his feet to the fire.   Are there any podcasts for "When it's finally time to Fire someone"?

mattpalmer's picture, and are probably the most relevant ones. They talk about coaching someone out of getting fired, but from memory the first "how to fire someone" cast does mention when and how to cut your losses.