I've inherited a team of software programmers, and over the first few months working with them I've discovered that one of them has gaping holes in his ability.  Things that I would expect any programmer to be able to do are question marks for him, and he has to refer to his team mates for help.  He's been with the company for years, but if I were in the position of interviewing this direct for the role, I would consider him a non-starter.

How to handle this?  I think coaching might be the right approach, but I foresee this taking ages to build the skills that should already be there.  


adambindslev's picture

I would say that coaching, in your case, would prove to be a very demanding method if you want to improve his skill. Your direct is probably well aware of his lacking ability - and are simply just coasting because he have had the opportunity to do so. So either I would get some training, real formal training where he will be taught the necessary skills.

I would foresee though, that when you present this to him you will face some resistance. Your conversation about this will inevitably make it clear to him that you are calling his bluff - and he will, with good reason, feel threatened by this. You could, of course, use coaching-techniques to make him realize this himself, but ... I am pretty sure he knows.

So the best solution might be to assign him to a different task - something he is competent in doing. Or, if his lack of ability is really severe, he might not be the right person for the job or the company. I know it is harsh, but sometimes desperate measures can be in order.

One last thing though ... before you do anything: Make sure that you are not wrong. When inheriting a team, it is often seen that a new manager demands a lot from the directs. And sometimes without reason. So make sure that what you call "things that I would expect any programmer to be able to do" really ARE things that you can reasonably expect any programmer to be able to do. Maybe have a chat with the former manager, to see how he has addressed this problem. 

I dont say that you should not act ... jjust make sure that you are correct in your views of the situation - and THEN act upon it.


best regards


Adam Bindslev

jhack's picture

Have you been doing one-on-ones?  Giving positive feedback?  

Adam's on the mark:  you need to know this person's strengths and weaknesses, and you need to coach if there are areas that aren't up to par. 

Sometimes, a new role can energize someone and unlock a hidden strength.  You have to get to know them, though, before such moves can be made.  I've know weak programmers who became great QA managers, for example. 

Take your time - as Mark and Mike point out, "this" has been going on for a while, and the company won't fail if it continues for a few more weeks or months while you figure out the right thing to do. 

John Hack

mmann's picture
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Regardless of how he does it, and whom he engages, does he complete his work on time?  Some people, especially those with a High I behavioral style, will rely on their relationships to complete their work.   This can be annoying for managers with a High C behavioral style, but it doesn't make the behavior wrong.   If he's meeting his deliverables without distracting the rest of your team, remember... "The other way works fine."