Hello from a long time listener, first-time poster!

I am currently managing in a culture where most employees start in a technical capacity. Once they reach full performance, they are expected to either achieve a high level of technical expertise/specialization, or move into policy, leadership, and management positions.

One of my directs is at the point in his career where he does not yet have to take a formal leadership/technical expert role to be promoted, but does need to demonstrate the qualities needed for one path or the other. He has admitted that he does not have the technical chops to become a technical expert, but has also pushed back on some of the behaviors (increasing polish in communications, developing the art of corporate subordination) needed for advancement on the leadership path.

When I spoke with my predecessor, from whom I inherited the direct, he admitted that the direct has some professionalism issues. At the same time, however, the previous manager admitted that he hadn't addressed the issues because he got too familiar with the team he was leading and engaged in some unprofessional behaviors himself, becoming more of the "us" of the team and less of the "them" of management. My predecessor also consistently dimed out our bosses (two levels up from the direct in question) for difficult decisions rather than owning them as a leader should. My predecessor also created the expectation for the direct that he was ready for promotion, but that organizational politics were preventing him from getting promoted.

I'm trying to work with the direct to help him understand the importance of professionalism. I have provided feedback on specific behaviors and those do change. When address the bigger picture from a career perspective during O3s, however, he regresses into making excuses, hiding behind a colorful personality and offbeat sense of humor to justify his behaviors. I've seen him demonstrate great, professional behaviors when he tries, but he thinks he only needs to demonstrate them to senior audiences or in formal settings. He uses performance evaluations from my predecessor, as well as my predecessor's claims about his promotability, to justify his claim. How can I effectively encourage my direct to turn his "professionalism switch" on more consistently?

tlhausmann's picture
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] How can I effectively encourage my direct to turn his "professionalism switch" on more consistently...

Been there, I have had folks like that in groups I have managed. Take heart, change takes time. Manager Tools, fortunately, has a number of podcasts you may find helpful:

Start with casts from "The Basics" concerning feedback and coaching. Apply the feedback model consistently and reserve time during your O3s to ask for examples (or cite those you observed) where your direct demonstrated professionalism. Document it. Pour on the affirming feedback.

] He uses performance evaluations from my predecessor, as well as my predecessor's claims about his promotability [...]

So? You his manager now and it is *your* evaluation that counts. You have higher expectations, company needs have changed, your boss' expectations may be higher than before, etc.

] however, he regresses into making excuses, hiding behind a colorful personality and offbeat sense of humor

(Buzzer sound) Are you giving him feedback on the spot? Your direct is accountable for *his* actions. You are responsible for intercepting your direct's behaviors with systemic feedback.


JonathanGiglio's picture
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Sounds like he's going to need consistent coaching. Immediate feedback will help, but he needs to develop within himself a different attitude.

One thing you might want to keep in mind though - just because he doesn't do things your way, doesn't mean he's doing them the wrong way. The real question about his behavior is if they are damaging his effectiveness (such as dropping dimes).

You might also consider the Owning the Inputs series - It's not just applicable to project work, but also on how to develop a sense of ownership for all things and helps eliminate excuses.

Can you send him to a conference? He'd benefit from both Effective Communicator and Effective Manager. Even though I'm not a manager, I've learned a ton on how to deal effectively with management by taking pages out of Mark and Mike's playbook.

Adam M.'s picture

@tlhausmann, Thanks for the input. I've hit most of the points you mention and I think in retrospect there is slight improvement--feedback etc takes time so I suppose any progress is good progress, right? One of the problems I have giving immediate feedback when he hides behind personality issues is that sometimes his unprofessional "episodes" are when only my team (5 people) is present. He understands that outsiders seeing him act that was is bad, but I have a hard time crafting meaningful feedback... the best I can come up with on the impact side of the feedback statement is something like "you make me question whether your professionalism is representative of work at the next level." It's a decent statement, but it's also begging the question if I can't convince him that the professionalism is indeed a factor that I can/will consider in promotion recommendations.

@JonathanGiglio, thanks for both the input and the sanity check. I've actually considered the "just because he doesn't do things your way, doesn't mean he's doing them the wrong way" argument and discussed it with my managers. While his behavior isn't as bad as dropping the dime, here are some of the bigger issues I'm trying to tackle:

  • Use of shorthand verging on chatspeak in email -- makes it difficult for our partners to understand his point and makes his communications look unpolished
  • Casting negative aspersions at other internal organizations -- halfway between dropping the dime and gossip
  • Not dedicating 100% energy to "sustainment" tasks like writing process documentation -- while performance "in the clutch" is important, the documentation sustains the org long term. (Proof on not dedicating energy is that he is doing other, less important personal tasks instead)

Let me know if you think these are stylistic disagreements as I'm open to that argument, but can't find a way to couch it that way myself. Thanks!

JonathanGiglio's picture
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Thanks for the additional details.

First, I wouldn't let him get away with considering non-team members outsiders. You all work for the same organization and being unprofessional in front of close colleagues is no different than being unprofessional in front of the CEO. I understand there are needs to be a little more candid when closer colleagues have a better understanding of a work product than those farther from it. Unfortunately, if he can't get it right with immediate peers, the magic just doesn't "turn on" when it's time to perform.

  • Need a communications resource here. Perhaps a DISC profile or as I mentioned - a conference. I would also work on incremental improvement. Not just "stop doing this", but let's see how we can come up with a more effective communication plan.
  • Who doesn't struggle with other departments? Keep reminding him you're all on the same team. Also, respect when there is legitimate disagreement - don't let others railroad your team. Finally, help him recognize who the customer is. Are you their customer, or they yours? There's a cast for that -
  • Nobody likes documentation, at least those who aren't responsible for it. But we don't get paid for what we like to do. What incentives are there around sustainability? What impact has it demonstrated for the firm? Does someone else on the team have a strength here?

While you might be able to overlook the challenges with documentation, it seems to go beyond that to issues with communication. Leaders need to be clear in both their words and intentions. It's going to make it tough for him to make it to at the next level without it. He has to realize that while his poor communication may only be affecting him now, he'll now be impacting a LOT more people as a manager and he'll need to be both more efficient and more effective.

tlhausmann's picture
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] I have a hard time crafting meaningful feedback [...]

] 'you make me question whether your professionalism...'

Professionalism characterizes the is not behavior.  For example, rolling ones eyes and audibly sighing are behaviors...exaperation is a characterization. It might sound like "When you rolled your eyes and interrupted Bob, he physically recoiled and others in the meeting stopped listening to you. What can you do differently in the future?"

Your direct's email messages are a  work product (a behavior). It is perfectly legitimate to give feedback on that too. "When you use chatspeak customers see you with less credibility..."  Adjust your feedback to fit the personality and in this case it sounds like your direct is High D and Strong C.


pucciot's picture
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I also have trouble crafting feedback like this...

I have received replies to feedback from a person like this that sounds like :

Feedback :

My feedback : "When you rolled your eyes and interrupted Bob, he physically recoiled and others in the meeting stopped listening to you."

The Direct's reply : "No they didn't.  They were still listening.  That's your perception, your opinion. You don't really know what everybody in that meeting was thinking."


My feedback : "When you use chatspeak customers see you with less credibility..."

The direct's reply : "No they don't.  They like that I'm being informal and kinda funny.  That's how I relate to the customers.  You just don't like chatspeak and your are too formal.  That's your problem and your perception.  I"m not being unprofessional, I'm building relationships."

Does anyone have an idea how to better craft feedback to make it more difficult for the direct to respond this way ?

I usually end up saying somthing like : "Well, yes, it is my perception.  And I don't consider it professional behavior, and _I_ do your apprasials."

- Which is a resort to role power.

Thanks for your help with me and Adam M.


tlhausmann's picture
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SuzanneB's picture

It sounds like he takes feedback and changes behavior. Keep focusing on that. The "big picture" may seem to big to him right now. But if he changes small behaviors consistently he will eventually change his entire performance.
And if there's one area where he's already ok but not great that might be a good area to start on some coaching since he already mostly gets it.